By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
Colorado health exchange officials admitted late Tuesday that they canceled 3,615 insurance plans that should have been automatically renewed after a blistering report about the glitch on 9News.
Thousands of people have been struggling to use Connect for Health Colorado to buy insurance. Earlier this month, Health News Colorado reported that at least 4,800 other customers had been unable to buy insurance because of different problems with a multi-million dollar sign-in system. That system was supposed to make it simpler for people to get insurance, but instead has been trapping people in limbo, sparking fury from Colorado lawmakers, health coverage guides, brokers and customers.
To try to fix that system, exchange board members approved emergency funding earlier this month. (Click here to read Exchange snafus trip of thousands as more cost overruns mount and here to read Board approves ‘Band-Aid fix for IT system as health guides plead for help)
Anger over problems at Colorado’s health exchange is mounting and Colorado lawmakers this week approved two bills that would require significantly greater oversight of the exchange, which has received nearly $200 million in taxpayer funds for its launch. The Colorado Senate voted unanimously on Tuesday to authorize a broad new audit of the exchange and a smaller majority of senators voted to require permission from lawmakers for any bonuses for executives. Those measures now go to the House.
Today, members of the House will consider a bill that would kill Colorado’s exchange altogether. That bill is unlikely to pass in the Democratic-controlled House, but if it did and the governor signed it, Colorado customers would have to shop for insurance through the federal health exchange instead of the Colorado system.
On 9News, reporter Brandon Rittiman found evidence that exchange officials were warning health insurance brokers as early as September that if customers shopped for other plans on the Connect for Health website, they would inadvertently shut off the auto-renewal feature.
Instead of fixing that glitch, managers assumed it wouldn’t be a big problem.
In an interview with 9News, Marcia Benshoof, chief strategy and sales officer at Connect for Health, tripped over her words and struggled to explain why exchange managers didn’t fix the problem well before open enrollment started on Nov. 15.
First she said, “It was really late December,” before officials knew about the problem.
Then she contradicted herself and said managers were “contemplating different scenarios” in the fall and didn’t fix the glitch because “we just didn’t think it would happen.”
Now exchange managers are pledging to fix yet another problem and have vowed to call the thousands of people who may not even realize that they’ve had no health insurance coverage during the month of January. The newest glitch may have affected as many as 5,400 people and there is very little time left to help others get coverage. The deadline to buy insurance for this year is Feb. 15.
While exchange PR consultants continue to report “enrollment gains,” Colorado’s exchange has so far failed to attract a significant percentage of new customers. As of the end of the year, 93,074 of the people who had signed up had renewed plans from last year. As of Jan. 15, exchange consultants reported that a total of 121,650 people had signed up for private health insurance, including those who had renewed.
Exchange PR consultant Curtis Hubbard issued a press release late Tuesday saying that of 73,000 “policies” that were eligible for auto-renewal, 3,615 “were removed from that process when the policy holder shopped on our website.” Hubbard pledged that the exchange will contact each of those policy holders and will offer them retroactive coverage backdated to Jan. 1. It’s not clear who will pay for any claims that those customers may have accrued this month.
Hubbard and Benshoof say exchange officials have “learned some lessons” and plan to make fixes for the next renewal and open enrollment period that will start in the fall.