Government Drops the Ball on 15,000 Obamacare Enrollees



WASHINGTON D.C. – The government admitted Saturday it failed to send data to health insurers for about 15,000 people who enrolled in Obamacare through early December.


The error was corrected this week, before it could jeopardize their coverage, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a report that noted error rates for such data transmissions to insurers, a process known as an “834 transaction” are now close to zero.


While the government announced Dec. 1 that it fixed many of the bugs and errors that had frustrated consumers using its insurance-enrollment system, garbled back-end communications with carriers have taken longer to sort out.


But insurers said the government appeared to be overstating the improvements made since the disastrous rollout, The New York Times reports.


Insurers told the newspaper of errors such as listing children as  child as subscribers and their  parents as dependents or children enrolled and their parents left off, as well as other issues that could affect the cost of coverage.


While insurers said some of the problems had been discovered recently, many had been reported previously to CMS and remained unresolved.


The data transmissions are critical to complete the enrollment of millions of people seeking coverage under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that was the signature domestic achievement of President Barack Obama’s first term.


“Our priority is working to make sure that every 834 form — past and present — is accurate, and that consumers are able to successfully enroll in the coverage of their choice,” Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a blog post today.


The 834 form, which provides insurers information including new customers’ names, addresses, gender and Social Security numbers, is generated at the end of the sign-up process after a health plan is selected. The data transmission failed as much as 15 percent of the time in the middle of October, according to today’s report. The enrollment system and its website,, at that time were plagued with errors, and federal technicians had only just begun a repair effort.


By Dec. 5, the rate of failed transmissions had fallen to less than 1 percent, according to the report. About 137,000 people had selected a health plan using the federal system by the end of November, according to the government.


Last week, Bataille’s agency shared all of its enrollment data with about 300 insurers participating in the federal system. That process, separate from the 834 transmissions, allows the plans to double-check their enrollment information against the government’s records.


“We are double and triple-checking all enrollment data across systems,” Bataille said in her post.


Mary Beth Chambers, spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, said she had noticed improvement. She said her company didn’t feel the need to verify information with every enrollee.


“The 834s are coming through cleaner,” Chambers told Reuters.


The federal system serves 36 states, including Texas and Florida. About 365,000 people have enrolled nationwide, including in states such as California, New York, Kentucky, and Washington that run their own systems and have reported fewer technical problems.


Americans who want coverage that begins Jan.1 have to sign up by Dec. 23. Bataille said the government will conduct another round of data reconciliation with insurers after that deadline.


Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report.