How much did yesterday's income verification outage hurt enrollments? (UPDATED)
2018 MIDTERM ELECTION
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I've stressed, over and over again, that my 12.5 million "by midnight February 15th" national QHP selection estimate assumed that there would be no further significant technical problems at Healthcare.Gov or the other exchanges.
As it happens, a couple of states (Washington in particular) have been having "significant technical problems" throughout the enrollment period after all, but nothing that would impact the overall numbers by more than perhaps 100K total...and HC.gov has been smooth sailing the entire way.
Consumers had difficulty submitting their applications for health insurance on Healthcare.gov just one day before this year's deadline, a Health Department official said Saturday.
"Some consumers have been unable to submit their application because their income is unable to be verified as a result of intermittent issues with external verification sources," the Department of Health and Human Services official said.
I don't know the exact time that the income verification issue started...the article above was posted at 2:44pm EST, but presumably it had been going on for at least a couple of hours by that point. Figure 11am or noon? The issue was resolved in the evening; at 9:06pm HC.gov tweeted the following:
— HealthCare.gov (@HealthCareGov) February 15, 2015
So, we're talking about a 9 to 10-hour stretch, during the busiest time of the day, on what is presumably the 2nd or 3rd busiest day of the entire enrollment period. Ouch.
How many people did this impact? Well, according to the notice posted on HC.gov during most of the afternoon/evening:
There's still time to enroll in health coverage! If you start an application today, you might not be able to submit it right away because of some temporary systems issues that are preventing us from verifying your information. But you can still create an account, start an application and follow the steps. If you can’t submit your completed application, just save it. If you do, we'll make sure you can return later to finish and enroll for March 1 coverage. If you've submitted your application already, you can continue to select a plan and enroll today. Keep checking back for updates.
So, basically, anyone who had already gotten past the IRS income verification step was already in the free and clear to finish the process...but anyone who hadn't got stuck at that point and had to come back later in the evening or today.
Furthermore, the IRS income verification issue also impacted at least some of the state exchanges as well. Massachusetts (which had to extend their deadline out by another 8 days anyway due to a series of devastating snowstorms) posted this on their home page yesteday as well:
This message makes it sound like every state exchange was in the same boat, although I didn't see any similar notices on the other websites. However, for the moment, I have to assume that every state exchange was unable to verify incomes for incomplete applications from around noon - 9pm yesterday.
UPDATE 2/15 2:10pm: According to this USA Today story (which features quotes from yours truly), it sounds like some state exchanges were impacted but others weren't:
Massachusetts posted a notice online Saturday that it was affected by problems with the "Federal Data Services Hub," but Kathleen Tallarita of Connecticut's exchange says her state was unaffected. Washington state exchange spokeswoman Bethany Frey said Sunday that "similar to other state exchanges, I can confirm that we were affected by the IRS service disruptions yesterday."
OK, so MA & WA were hit, but Connecticut wasn't? I guess that's better than all of them being hit.
I was expecting around half a million people to enroll total yesterday. How many actually made it through?? I have no idea. Perhaps most of the enrollees had already been verified. Perhaps none of them did. Until I learn otherwise, I have to operate on the assumption that as many as, say, 90% weren't able to pull the trigger.
This is on top of yesterday's off-hand comment by HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell that she wasn't expecting this weekend's surge to be as large as last spring, which had already caused me to change my total estimate from a flat 12.5M to a range of 12.2M - 12.5M before the tech problem happened.
For both of these reasons, I now have to assume at this point that the total as of midnight tonight could be as many as 500K - 800K fewer than I thought, or perhaps 11.7 - 12.0 million.
HOWEVER, it's important to remember that HC.gov has stated that as long as you start your application by midnight tonight, you'll be able to finish it up, although they didn't give any specific final extension deadline. In addition, California and New York both announced similar "wait in line" extensions (5 days and 13 days respectively), and Massachusetts has an 8 day full extension (ie, you can start the process during that time).
In short, I'm still expecting up to 12.2 - 12.5 million people to select an exchange QHP...even if 500K - 800K of them end up actually checking out sometime between 2/16 - 2/28.
This would be similar to last April, when 900,000 people did so during the 2-week April "overtime" period.
UPDATE 2/15 1:00pm: In addition to the income verification outage yesterday and Massachusetts being slammed and having to extend their deadline by 8 full days, I should also note that both the Rhode Island and DC exchanges have announced that they've had to cancel various in-person enrollment events...in addition, Rhode Island appears to have unofficially announced their own 8-day "waiting in line" extension, although the wording makes it a bit vague as to whether this limited to certain areas or is state-wide:
"Please be advised that Pilgrim AME and Israel Baptist Church enrollment centers are CLOSED today, Sunday, February 15, 2015 due to weather."
"Due to severe weather conditions, HealthSource RI’s Contact Center and Walk-in at 70 Royal Little Drive in Providence and its Walk-in Center at 1923 Post Road in Warwick are closed today.
Contact Center staff will not be available by phone today; however, new and renewing customers can compare, choose and pay for a plan online. There also will be a Special Enrollment Period available through Monday, February 23, for customers unable to enroll today due to the closing."
In addition, the Washington State exchange were still reporting significant technical issues as of 9:30 this morning, of an unspecified nature:
Status Updates & Maintenance Schedule
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Performance issues due to app malfunction errors in Washington Healthplanfinder have been reported by users. These issues are currently being investigated. Further updates will be posted here as they become available.
Finally, as an aside, in addition to having the the 2015 enrollment period end 1) on a Sunday and 2) on Valentine's Day Weekend, tomorrow (Monday) also happens to be Presidents Day, when a whole mess of federal/state offices are closed. Forget about the "tax season" issue...why the hell did they choose this weekend for the cut-off of all times? Why not bump it out to, say, February 28th in the first place??
The Washington Health Benefit Exchange and the Customer Support Center will be closed on Monday, February 16 in observance of Presidents Day.