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Delay Likely on Upgrades to Healthcare.gov Website

Updates still being worked out; sign-up begins in less than two weeks

The Obama administration has announced that upgrades to the government’s health insurance website may take additional time. Among the awaited features are a doctor look-up tool and a tool to allow consumers to check to see if a particular health plan covers their prescription medications.

Lori Lodes, communications director at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the health care program, told the Associated Press that those online improvements will be ready to launch soon, but she would not commit to a specific date. The insurance industry says ongoing testing uncovered problems with accuracy.

"Right now, we are working closely with the insurance companies to make sure their data is accurate and validated and to identify and fix any potential issues," Lodes said in a statement. "When we are confident that the data provided by the insurers gives consumers the information they need to choose the right plan, we'll be ready to launch."

Open enrollment for 2016 starts November 1 and runs through January 31, 2016. Insurers were required to provide the data by October 1. Industry officials say the government left too little time for testing. The administration says it has extended the testing period, and insurers need to submit their data in the correct format.

Another consumer-friendly upgrade — a cost estimator — apparently won't be delayed. The administration has set a goal of 10 million paying customers by the end of next year in the health law's insurance markets, which offer taxpayer-subsidized private plans to people who don't have access to job-based coverage.

By allowing a delay, the administration may spare itself some of the embarrassment that could arise if the promised online improvements turn out to have bugs.

Source: Associated Press, October 19, 2015.

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