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Obamacare has bigger problems than a broken website

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Whether caused by traffic overload or untested software glitches, the Obamacare website launch has been a hot mess. But as the Washington Post's Sarah Kliff notes, this could be the least of the program's problems. As it turns out, the automated reports the site is sending out to insurers with information on new enrollees -- called 834 EDI transmissions or "834s" -- are full of problems:

If people can't get into the Web site, then they simply have to come back later. But if they believe they've signed up for a plan but their 834 is a garbled mess -- or, even worse, clear but wrong -- it could mean chaos when they actually go to use their health insurance. For that reason, inside the health-care industry, the 834 problems are the glitch that is causing the most concern. [...]

The Wall Street Journal reported that one insurance plan got an 834 for a subscriber who, according to the data, had three spouses. This was surprising because the individual was not a polygamist. Two dependents had been incorrectly coded as spouses.

Others have gotten reports for people joining the plan, unenrolling and re-enrolling multiple times in the course of a week--or even the same day.

Right now, health-insurance plans say they can manage these problems. Few enough enrollment forms are coming in that they're able to hand-check each one. "What our company, and I'm assuming others, are doing is throwing people at it," one insurertold Wonkblog. "We're overcoming the tech flaws with manual reviews and manual rigor and manual processes. That's fine right now, but when you start looking at the scale of what the Obama administration wants to do, that's just not going to scale up."

This approach undermines the very point of 834s, which is to make it possible for the computer system to automate the process of enrolling tens or even hundreds of thousands of applicants each day.

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