What Happens If Healthcare.gov Isn’t Fixed by Nov. 30?

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It's supposed to be, but the government had plenty of time to get it right the first time and failed. So what's Plan B?

The national Obamacare insurance marketplace website, Healthcare.gov, is broken. It was virtually impossible to sign up for a plan through the site when it relaunched more than a month ago, and things don’t seem to be much better now.

The White House promised it would be fixed by Nov. 30. The Washington Post is reporting that’s unlikely, since improvements to the site show it still can’t handle the anticipated volume of insurance shoppers.

“Government workers and tech­nical contractors racing to repair the Web site have concluded that the only way for large numbers of Americans to enroll in the health-care plans soon is by using other means so that the online system isn’t overburdened,” the Post says.

So what happens if it isn’t fixed? What’s Plan B?

Some Democrats are pushing to delay the penalty for not enrolling, Bloomberg Businessweek says. For 2014, that penalty is the greater of $95 or 1 percent of income, and it currently takes effect for those who haven’t purchased insurance by March 31. That’s unlikely to happen, because insurers have already set rates for 2014 under the assumption the law and sign-ups would play out as expected.

So the first plausible option is for people to enroll with insurers directly. That would make it harder to compare plans, although Healthcare.gov added a tool to help estimate premiums that works better than the sign-up process does. This option would also present some logistical problems in getting eligible consumers the subsidies meant to help pay their premiums, Businessweek says. Individuals making less than $45,960 and families of four making less than $94,200 should qualify for subsidies. But it may be more doable than fixing Healthcare.gov in the next two weeks.

Another option would be to apologize and tell people to hold tight a while longer until the site is fully operational. That would give people less time to sign up, and could delay when their coverage actually kicks in, but we’re Americans — we usually wait until the last minute anyway, right?

It was certainly true in Massachusetts. When the state rolled out what became the model for Obamacare in 2007, just 6 percent of consumers who eventually signed up did so in the first two months, The New Republic says. Registration didn’t pick up until halfway through the enrollment period, which for Obamacare would be in the new year.

Do you plan to sign up for insurance through Healthcare.gov if they get it working? Comment below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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