HHS expands access to ObamaCare subsidies

The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) this week quietly expanded access to ObamaCare subsidies and tax credits in states, where the online exchanges have failed disastrously.

The Affordable Care Act requires consumers to enroll through a uniform application on the national and state exchanges to qualify for federal subsidies and credits.

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However, the state-run exchanges in some of these states — Oregon, Maryland, Massachusetts and Hawaii in particular — have experienced more technical problems than even the federal website. Consumers in those states are having difficulty enrolling five months after the launch.

The HHS change will allow those who tried to sign up on their state-run exchanges, but couldn’t, to retroactively obtain the subsidies they would have been eligible for, even if they ended up purchasing healthcare through a private insurer. The privately purchased plans must still meet certain basic requirements of the healthcare law.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said in a statement it was working closely with officials in states with the troubled exchanges to implement their marketplaces.

“We recognize that some states have experienced difficulties in processing automated eligibility determinations and enrollments, and today we released guidance providing options to Marketplaces to ensure eligible consumers have access to financial assistance and issuers are paid,” the agency said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with states to assist them in moving forward with their Marketplaces so that all consumers can take advantage of their new coverage options.”

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) essentially broke news about the change, when his office released a statement on Thursday lauding the effort.

“Today’s news means that many more Oregonians will be able to access better coverage at a more affordable cost,” Kitzhaber said. “I applaud the federal government for its efforts to make this financial assistance available for more Oregonians.”

In Oregon, not one person has yet to enroll online, leaving the state completely reliant on paper applications. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office requesting a review of the $304 million in federal grants that Oregon received to build its broken website.

This isn’t the first time the CMS has sought to make things easier on the states that have struggled to get the exchanges up and running.

Earlier this month, the CMS extended a three-month waiver for Massachusetts that would allow it to continue enrolling those who had coverage from the previous exchange and are transferring to a new Connector plan.
 
Massachusetts was once the model for state-run healthcare exchanges but ran into difficulties updating its system to comply with the new healthcare law. Since October, the site has suffered frequent crashes and load problems.