By Jonathan Easley - 01/03/14 06:00 AM EST
The number of people seeking to use their new ObamaCare coverage for the first time is expected to spike next week.
Representatives from healthcare companies, trade groups, and the Obama administration told The Hill that many who obtained new coverage under the law are using this week to learn about their plans and set up preliminary appointments.
“We are anticipating a surge in activity beginning next week,” said Markeisha Marshall, a spokesperson for Walgreens, the country’s largest pharmacy.
“We haven’t seen many issues, but it’s early,” said Kevin Schweers of the National Community Pharmacists Association.
“We’re predicting Monday will be a better arbiter [for how the law is holding up], so that’s something we’re keeping an eye on,” Schweers added. “We’ve asked our members to let us know about their experiences.”
The administration and healthcare groups have been bracing for the latest test of the law after enrollment deadline delays and processing errors at HealthCare.Gov created an administrative nightmare for insurers.
Two worries are paramount.
The first is that a sizable number of consumers who show up at the doctor’s office will discover that they don’t have the insurance they thought they purchased.
A second is that people have enrolled in ObamaCare, but have to make a payment. Some will discover they don’t have the insurance they thought they purchased as a result .
A spokesperson from the American Medical Association said “it may take some time” before the full picture comes into view, while some interest group representatives cautioned not to attribute everything that happens over the next week to the new healthcare law.
The administration has received a great deal of help from the private sector in an attempt to make this year’s transition a smooth one.
Some big insurers are allowing consumers to pay their first premium by Jan. 10 and still be insured on Jan. 1.
In addition, Walgreens, CVS Pharmacies, Kroger and WalMart announced this week that they’d provide up to a month of no-cost medications to consumers who haven’t received their ObamaCare ID cards yet, but can prove they enrolled.
Marshall said Walgreens has so far serviced only a “moderate” number of those who needed to take advantage of the added flexibility the pharmacies are offering. All of the major chains said it was too early to provide totals at this time.
Keith Dailey, a spokesperson for Kroger, said early January is always a complicated time for the industry because they historically see a “surge of customers with new insurance the first month of every year.”
White House senior adviser David Simas made the same argument on a Thursday conference call with reporters.
“Like any transition, such as occurs every year, when people move from one type of plan to another, it requires a lot of coordination between pharmacies, insurance companies, hospitals, doctors and providers,” he said. “That type of coordination is ongoing and will continue to ramp up over the course of the next week.”
The botched ObamaCare rollout has left the administration vulnerable to criticism.
The administration is adamant that most of the back-end issues with the HealthCare.Gov website have been resolved, but the nation’s largest insurance trade group described the problems as “ongoing.”
“Health plans are working around the clock to process the high volume of enrollments that they have received from the exchanges,” said America’s Health Insurance Plans spokesman Robert Zirkelbach.
“While there are still some ongoing challenges with the back-end systems, including so-called 'orphan records,' where the enrollment files are never received, health plans are working with CMS to resolve those issues as quickly as possible so that consumers' coverage can begin in January,” he said.
In the interim, the political debate surrounding the law rages.
The administration has embarked on a public relations blitz to highlight positive ObamaCare stories.
Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius uploaded a YouTube video and circulated an op-ed on Thursday touting the benefits of the law, and Simas’s conference call focused on the rollout in Georgia. It included a woman who told gave personal testimony about her experience in gaining affordable coverage for the first time.
Republicans aren’t letting up either.
On Thursday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a blog post that the law was “unworkable and unaffordable,” and solicited personal stories from citizens that have been adversely affected.
And the Koch-brothers backed Americans For Prosperity launched a seven-figure ad buy against three Democratic senators it believes are vulnerable because of their support for the law.