NEW YORK — The District of Columbia’s online health insurance exchange – one of 51 set up under President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law – will be unable to perform two key functions when it opens on October 1, exchange officials announced on Wednesday.
The District joins Colorado and Oregon on the list of “Obamacare” exchanges hobbled by problems with information technology (IT), contributing to expectations that Obama’s signature domestic achievement will get off to a slow start when the exchanges go live next Tuesday.
The “DC Health Link” web-based marketplace, where residents of the nation’s capital who do not have other coverage will be able to purchase policies, will lack the ability to calculate whether someone is eligible for Medicaid. It will also be unable to calculate the size of federal subsidies, if any, that a customer qualifies for.
Although numerous online tools created by nonprofit and other groups have offered subsidy calculators for months, “calculating subsidies for real is admittedly more complicated,” said one expert. “For example, you have to make sure the family isn’t eligible for Medicaid, and you have to collect more detail about their income. That said, I am frankly a little mystified why they couldn’t get this right in time.”
Under the law, someone whose income is less than four times the federal poverty level, or $45,960 for an individual and $110,280 for a family of five, can receive federal subsidies in the form of tax credits to defray the cost of monthly insurance premiums.
Subsidies are key to making the policies fit the budgets of many uninsured Americans, a primary goal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Without subsidies, sticker prices for an individual average $328 but can reach hundreds of dollars higher. But with them, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 6.4 million people will be able to purchase policies for less than $100 per month.