The administration unveiled HealthCare.gov 3.0 on Sunday, saying customers will find a sleeker, easier-to-use website if they log on ahead of Obamacare’s third round of sign-ups.
Setting a high bar for the portal that famously crashed in fall 2013, officials said the website that serves 38 states is 40 percent quicker than last year and will let customers calculate their out-of-pocket costs — a part of the purchasing process that can be overshadowed by rising premium amounts in some areas and the taxpayer subsidies offered to qualified customers under the Affordable Care Act.
“The consumer experience this year will be easier and faster,” said Andy Slavitt, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Though sign-ups don’t start until Nov. 1, consumers could log on Sunday to get a first glimpse at prices and new features. Officials said they’re not quite ready to launch tools that will allow users to search for plans that are accepted by their doctors and cover their prescriptions, but that they’re coming soon.
Until then, customers will have to use more cumbersome databases to find the information, or call their providers.
Even as it pledged a comfortable experience, the agency said people should expect minor hiccups during open enrollment from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31 for the 2016 plan year.
“These things are all imperfect. That’s technology, it’s never going to be perfect,” HealthCare.gov CEO Kevin Counihan said.
HealthCare.gov faltered out of the gate in October 2013, prompting a frantic rescue mission by the White House to salvage the health overhaul in its infancy. The website enjoyed a relatively stable run during the second round of sign-ups, although a handful of state-run exchanges are still struggling.
For 2016, HHS officials said they focused on personalizing the system.
“We’re really moving into step three in our evolution,” Mr. Counihan said.
This year, users will receive additional prompts, such as pop-up messages reminding people to type in their Social Security Number, and be able to sift through eligibility for individual family members.
“It’s being more instructive, it’s being more personal, it’s being more customized,” Mr. Counihan said.
Yet the system faces a series of challenges. Government auditors said Thursday they’re still able to sneak fake enrollees into subsidized coverage, and rooting out uninsured Americans becomes more difficult with each passing year.
HHS tamped down expectations for exchange enrollment by predicting 10 million paying customers for 2016, or less than half of the Congressional Budget Office’s formal estimate.
The penalty for lacking insurance is rising sharply, which may drive more Americans into the exchanges. People who stay uncovered in 2016 must pay $695 or 2.5 percent of their income above the filing threshold, up from $325 or 2 percent of income in 2015.