NPR Story
2:17 pm
Fri November 29, 2013

As HealthCare.Gov's Deadline Approaches, What Will Be Ready?

Originally published on Fri November 29, 2013 6:49 pm

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Ari Shapiro. Tomorrow is judgment day for healthcare.gov. The Obama administration has repeatedly said that by November 30, the troubled website will be up and running for the vast majority of users, and officials say they're on track to reach that goal.

But already this week they've delayed another part of the website that was supposed to let small business owners sign up for plans to cover their employees. NPR's Julie Rovner joins us in the studio to run through the latest with us. Well, hi, Julie.

JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: OK. Tomorrow, an individual log on to healthcare.gov, what can they expect? Will it be as simple as Amazon or Kayak?

ROVNER: Well, probably not. Even though tomorrow is, as you said, the administration's self-imposed deadline for eliminating the majority of the technical problems, they've also been stressing that it is not a magic date and that there will still be some problems going forward. For example, by vast majority of users, they mean 80 percent of people.

So one out of five will still have to turn to either phone or in person or paper support, either because of a technical problem or because they have an individual situation that's just too complicated to handle online.

SHAPIRO: And after this weekend, are they expecting the website to have a more or less infinite capacity or could it still get overwhelmed if too many people want to log on at once?

ROVNER: Well, the administration says the site will be able to handle as many as 800,000 people a day, but it is expected that there will be days when many more people than that may try to log on. Remember, we're looking at the first real deadline associated with the law. That's coming up December 23. That's when you have to be signed up in order for coverage to start January 1.

So we'll have to see if the system's new queuing system will really work. That's when they send messages to people when the site's really crowded, telling them would be a good time to come back or whether all that traffic will just crash the site like it did in early October.

SHAPIRO: So if that's what individuals can expect, what about small businesses?

ROVNER: Well, there's a new delay. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees were supposed to be able to use the healthcare.gov website to sign up for plans for their workers online by the end of this month. That's now been delayed all the way until next November. They can still use the website to compare plans, but to sign up, they'll have to go directly to the insurance company or to an insurance broker or an agent like they're currently doing and use a paper application.

And they'll have to apply separately to claim the 50 percent tax credit that's available to some employers with fewer than 25 workers.

SHAPIRO: But if individuals can easily sign up, why is it significant that small businesses cannot enroll their employees?

ROVNER: Well, you know, people keep forgetting that these new health exchanges were supposed to serve both individuals and small businesses. The focus has been almost exclusively on the individual side of this, but when the law was passed, there was supposed to be major emphasis on helping small businesses band together to give them better purchasing power so they could get better insurance rates.

That's so more of them would offer insurance so fewer individuals would have to buy their own insurance.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, if these companies cannot enroll their employees, they can't be obligated to provide health insurance for their employees, right?

ROVNER: Well, these employers were never going to be obligated to provide insurance for their workers. Only larger employers will be subject to fines for failing to provide insurance. But small businesses are the least likely to offer insurance now, so the idea was to make it as easy and as attractive as possible to get them to do it and they continuing delays, both at healthcare.gov and in some, although not all, of the state exchanges as well, really aren't contributing towards that goal.

SHAPIRO: Thanks. That's NPR's Julie Rovner.

ROVNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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