Federal official in Montana to ease Obamacare concerns

2013-07-10T17:37:00Z 2013-07-10T21:41:06Z Federal official in Montana to ease Obamacare concernsBy MIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA — Glitches are likely when a key component of “Obamacare” — the Internet sales hub for subsidized health insurance policies — has its major rollout this fall, a regional spokesman for the agency in charge said Wednesday.

But, as bumps in the road occur, they will be addressed — just as they would be with the unveiling of any new, complex program, said Mike Fierberg of the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Fierberg compared the Oct. 1 launch of the Internet health insurance marketplace to the launching of Medicare Part D eight years ago, the new prescription drug-coverage program for the elderly people covered by Medicare.

Critics said Medicare Part D was going to “collapse of its own weight,” that private insurers wouldn’t participate, and that the public would have trouble understanding it, he recalled.

It did encounter plenty of problems at first, Fierberg said, and personnel in his office in Denver spent many hours tackling everything from enrollment problems to unpaid claims.

“Those were not fun months,” he said. “But we did it. … (Now), we very seldom get complaints about Medicare Part D.

“It does take time to refine things to make sure that they serve the needs of the people they’re intending to help. Is that likely to be the case (with the Internet marketplaces)? That would not surprise me.”

Fierberg has been in Montana this week to promote and talk about the unveiling of Montana’s federally run health insurance marketplace, where Montanans will be able to shop for and purchase a policy.

Those earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level — nearly $46,000 for a single person — can get federal subsidies to help them pay for the policies, which will take effect in January. The subsidies can be generous for those with lower incomes.

Fierberg was on a statewide radio talk show Tuesday morning and has been meeting with reporters across the state.

His Montana trip comes after of a string of national news stories on the Obama administration pulling back on parts of the ACA’s implementation, such as a rule that states businesses with more than 50 employees must offer them health insurance or pay a penalty.

Fierberg said he doesn’t know precisely why the administration is delaying parts of the law for now, but that developing rules for the law is a lengthy, complex legal process that takes into account objections raised about the draft rules.

“I think that’s part of the dynamic that’s at work here,” he said.

Fierberg also said constructing the online insurance marketplace to interact with the systems of several state and federal agencies has been a huge task.

“Six months ago, there were times when we looked at each other and said, 'There is no way this is going to be able to work,'" he said. “Now, we’ve made enough progress that there is a reasonable confidence that it is going to work.”

The federal government is building and running the insurance marketplaces for individual buyers in five of the six states in the Denver region: Montana, the Dakotas, Wyoming and Utah. Only Colorado is running its own exchange, and Utah is running its own exchange for business customers.

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