WASHINGTON, D.C. — All things good, bad and unpredictable converge today for President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul as the law’s major benefits take effect, along with an unpopular insurance mandate and a risk of more nerve-wracking disruptions to coverage.
The changes bring big improvements for some, including Howard Kraft of Lincolnton, N.C. A painful spinal problem left him unable to work as a hotel bellman. But he’s got coverage because federal law now forbids insurers from turning away people with health problems. “I am not one of these people getting a policy because I’m being made to,” Kraft said. “I need one to stay alive.”
What’s good for millions like Kraft is secured through what other people see as an imposition: requiring virtually every American to get covered, either through an employer, a government program, or by buying a plan directly.
But the biggest health care headlines early in the year could come from continued unpredictable consequences of the administration’s messy rollout.
The consumer-facing side of the HealthCare.gov website now appears to be largely fixed — with more than 2 million people enrolled, the administration said Tuesday. But on the back end, insurers say they are still receiving thousands of erroneous sign-ups from the government.
That means early in the year patients who signed up could go for a medication refill — or turn up in the emergency room — only to be told there is no record of their coverage.
One of the main worries now is over certain error-tainted enrollment records that insurers call “orphans” and “ghosts.”
“Orphans” are sign-ups that the government has a record of, but they do not appear in insurer systems. Insurers say those customers never left the government’s “orphanage” to “go and live” with the carrier they selected.