Traffic blocks health care infoPublished 12:00am Tuesday, October 8, 2013
A week after the launch of the federal government’s Obamacare website, millions of Americans looking for information on new health insurance plans are still locked out of the system this week, even as the site’s designers scramble to add capacity.
Signed into law in March 2010, the “Patient Protection and the Affordable Health Care Act,” more commonly known as Obamacare, was designed to “give more Americans access to affordable, quality health insurance and to reduce the growth in health care spending in the U.S.,” according to the law’s fact website. It requires most Americans to obtain health coverage by 2014, get an exemption or pay a fee.
Many of the law’s numerous provisions have already been enacted. The rest of the program starts in 2013-2014 and continues to roll out until 2022. More than 100 million Americans have already benefited from the new health care law.
ObamaCare does not replace private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid – which means consumers who have health coverage they like can keep it.
Proponents of the law say it offers “a number of new benefits, rights and protections including the requirement that all new health insurance plans cover preventive services and provide new essential health benefits, this includes everything from yearly check-ups, to maternity care, to mental health, to mammograms and colonoscopies, at no out-of-pocket costs.”
It also charges those who don’t have insurance – private pay, Medicare or Medicaid – a fee for being uninsured.
Beginning in 2014, those who don’t have insurance will be required to pay 1 percent of their yearly income or $95 per person for the year, whichever is higher, according to the information side of healthcare.gov, which was available on Monday. The fee increases every year. In 2016 it is 2.5 percent of income or $695 per person, whichever is higher.
In 2014 the fee for uninsured children is $47.50 per child. The most a family would have to pay in 2014 is $285.
Someone who pays the fee won’t get any health insurance coverage. They still will be responsible for 100 percent of the cost of their medical care. Rather, the fees are being assessed based on the assumption that those who don’t have insurance and leave health care bills unpaid drive up the costs of health care for others.
Those who must shop for insurance are being directed to the health insurance marketplace website, HealthCare.gov. The federal government is running the exchange on behalf of Alabama and other states; Gov. Robert Bentley announced last November he would not set up a state-run exchange, an option under the Affordable Care Act.
Early users of the website reported difficulty accessing the site, and on Monday, the website was still bogged with traffic. People frustrated by the exchange problems can take heart: The deadline to apply for coverage through the exchange is Dec. 15. Open enrollment through the exchanges will last through March 31, 2014.
Government officials blame the persistent glitches on an overwhelming crush of users – 8.6 million unique visitors by Friday – trying to visit the HealthCare.gov website this week.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversaw development of the site, declined to make any of its IT experts available for interviews. CGI Group Inc, the Canadian contractor that built HealthCare.gov, is “declining to comment at this time,” said spokeswoman Linda Odorisio.
Part of the site was taken down over the weekend for repair – a sign that officials believe points to issues in coding and computer programming, not a sign of the need for additional servers.