Big Insurance Can Now Bypass Obamacare Website, Tech Companies Still Waiting

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As the federal government struggles to regain hope that it can get enough consumers to buy health insurance, it is piloting an option for consumers to purchase insurance outside of state websites. Consumers in three states, Florida, Texas, and Ohio, will be able to enroll in new plans entirely through insurance company websites.

Unfortunately, tech companies such as eHealth and startups like Fuseinsurance have been busy building more sophisticated Orbitz-like shopping experiences, and are still waiting for their opportunity. For the new healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, to follow through with its promise of cheap insurance, it needs to sign up an army of young invincibles.

The still malfunctioning federal website, healthcare.gov, is in danger of missing a key Thanksgiving holiday deadline, when parents will be able to guilt their children into both giving them grandchildren and getting insurance. With luck, private insurance companies will be able to leverage their vast marketing powers to snag even more new consumers.

Hence, the Department of Health And Human Services is expediting fixes to the healthcare.gov’s data hub so that insurance companies in these states can sign up people directly (and take a slice of the profit, of course). Part of the problem with insurance “direct enrollment” is that most of them don’t give the Progressive guarantee of informing consumers about other options. On Blue Cross’s website, you’ll only see their plans, even if others are better.

Tech companies and startups are building platforms to compare all available plans, but, for unknown reasons, the federal government decided to make giving them access a low priority.

It’s not clear why startups are being treated like second-class citizens, being forced to wait in idle while other corporations are given access. In two states, California and New York, they’ve been completely shut out of the e-commerce process for around two years.

Still, it’s important to note that this new workaround depends on the federal website being functional. According to sources familiar with healthcare.gov, and the Annual Medical Report’s general counselor, Joel Winston, both insurers and tech companies are forbidden from directly accessing healthcare.gov’s database. In order to determine eligibility for discounts, they’d need access to IRS income data, but that’s not legal to give out.

So, the pilot to come up with an alternative to healthcare.gov may work, but if it does, consumers won’t necessarily have access to the best options. [Image Credit: Flickr User trezomfreak]