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Businesses hired to make Obamacare work say they're ready

5:35 AM, Sep 11, 2013   |    comments
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(ATLANTA BUSINESS CHRONICLE) -- The businesses the federal government has hired to make health care reform work assured Congress on Tuesday that their systems will be ready by Oct. 1, when the law's new heath insurance marketplaces will begin enrolling customers.

Individuals and small businesses will shop for insurance on these online exchanges. Only 17 states, counting the District of Columbia, decided to run their own exchanges. Seven more are partnering with the federal government on these exchanges. The federal government will operate exchanges for the remaining 27 states.

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There are lots of doubts as to how well these exchanges will operate on opening day.

"I'm a little skeptical the system can function as advertised by Oct. 1," said Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), who chaired a hearing on the issue Tuesday.

The skepticism is merited when it comes to most state exchanges, said W. Brett Graham, managing director of Leavitt Partners Center for Health Insurance Exchange Intelligence. State exchanges likely will have "baseline functionality" by Oct. 1, but "very few states will have a comprehensive working exchange" by then.

"It is also expected that exchanges will experience a problematic enrollment period as states and the federal government work to overcome both known and unknown challenges," he said. "Unfortunately, this means that most consumers will experience frustration as they complete the exchange enrollment and eligibility process."

Businesses hired by the federal government to make the exchanges work painted a brighter picture, however.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services contracted with CFI Federal of Fairfax, Va., to design and develop the federally facilitated marketplaces that will be used in states that decided not to run their own exchanges.

"CGI Federal is confident that it will deliver the functionality that CMS has directed to enable qualified individuals to begin enrolling in coverage" on Oct. 1, said Cheryl Campbell, the company's senior vice president in charge of this project.

Similar assurances were made by other government contractors involved in health care reform's implementation:

* Atlanta-based Equifax Workforce Solutions is ready to use its proprietary database to verify the incomes of individuals who apply for Medicaid, insurance premium tax credits or other benefits eligible to lower-income Americans under health care reform, said Corporate Counsel Lynn Spellecy. The company already has performed 10 million income verification for other government programs in all 50 states, she noted.

* Serco Inc., based in Reston, Va., said it's on track to process and verify the more than 6 million paper applications that are expected to be submitted between Oct. 1 and Mar. 31, 2014, for enrollment in qualified health plans and for insurance affordability programs such as premium tax credits. It's hiring 1,500 new employees to do this work, said John Lau, the contract's program director.

* QSSI, based in Columbia, Md., built a data services hub, which will funnel requests for various types of verification from health insurance marketplaces to the appropriate government agencies. This hub also will pass on enrollment data from these marketplaces to the health plan chosen by consumers. It will "be ready as planned by Oct. 1," said Michael Finkel, the company's executive vice president for program delivery.

Will all these companies meet their deadlines? We'll soon find out. If there are problems, you can bet they'll be hauled back to Congress for additional hearings.

(Atlanta Business Chronicle)

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