Reports: Insurers are getting bad data from federal exchange

Problem could leave some Americans without insurance on Jan. 1

Insurers say they are receiving incomplete or inaccurate data from the federal health insurance exchanges—a problem that could leave some insurance applicants without coverage on Jan. 1, Drew Armstrong and Alex Nussbaum report for Bloomberg.

Firms say they are receiving electronic files from the exchanges that cannot be opened or have so much missing information that the files are unusable. The problem is so serious that Dan Schuyler—a consultant advising states and insurers on the exchanges—told Bloomberg that he "would throw up the yellow flag" if there is no "substantial improvement by the end of this week."

Moreover, if the data does not improve in the next two to three weeks, "it's time for red flags," Schuyler says. Altogether, 36 states are using the federally operated exchange.

Insurers currently are fixing applications by hand, according to insurance industry consultant Bob Laszewski. But enrollment is expected to surge as the Jan. 1 launch date approaches, he added.

"If you've only got a dozen bad enrollments, that's OK, but what are you going to do when you have 200,000 bad enrollments?" Laszewski told Bloomberg, adding that the online process "is just as bad behind the wizard's curtain."

Although most states appear to be overcoming technical glitches associated with online applications, the government-run exchanges still have major issues, Laszewski says. He notes that HHS is continuing to operate a parallel testing website to iron out technical problems; that site was supposed to close on Oct. 1, but has not because the agency still has not "got the bugs out," Laszewski says.

"They still aren't sending clean files…the insurance industry is scared to death," he warns.

Lauren Perlstein—a spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma—says that with "any program of this magnitude, it's not unexpected to have glitches during the initial rollout."

She added that is supposed to send a batch of new enrollment applications to insurers each night like private insurers do—called the "834 files"—but the government is struggling with the new process (Armstrong/Nussbaum, Bloomberg News, 10/8).

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