Obamacare Website Glitch Affects Tens of Thousands

Michelle Ristuccia

Yet another glitch in the Obamacare website has been discovered, this time in the website's calculator, which has been giving incorrect messages of "Not eligible for help paying for coverage" to families who actually do qualify. The estimator has been using 2014 tax definitions instead of the 2013 definitions it is supposed to be using.

Inquirer ran a series of test scenarios and noticed the discrepancy.

The false denial messages will mostly affect families whose income falls near the poverty line in states that did not expand Medicaid, like NC. If the household income is above the poverty line, federal subsidies kick in to make insurance more affordable. Below the poverty line, such families get no subsidy at all, because it was intended that states cover the gap by increasing Medicaid. Increasing the Medicaid program is a large financial burden for state governments and 22 of the 50 states chose not to expand Medicaid. Regardless of the state, households that qualify for expanded Medicaid cannot qualify for subsidies and receive the message "Not eligible for help paying for coverage" from the website's calculator.

As if that weren't bad enough, Brian Haile, senior vice president for health policy at Jackson Hewitt, estimated that 70,000 applicants received this message in error because of the 2014 data. Stubborn applicants may have continued deeper into the Obamacare website where the glitch did not exist, but the fear is that most will have stopped there. Households who managed to apply anyway should receive correct information from the insurance company they enrolled in because the companies do their own calculations. But applicants who took the website at its word will have had no way of knowing about the glitch. Applying by phone would have encountered the same problem because phone operators simply use the same healthcare.gov website.

To top things off, frustrated applicants may have gone to other websites and received a similar message because several other websites have been using the 2014 data as well. HealthSherpa.com discovered the same error in their calculator last week, and Independence Blue Cross shortly after that.

This calculator glitch is one of a series of significant problems with the site. At the time of launch, the Obamacare website offered mostly error screens and long wait times, as reported by the Huffington Post. Then, Newsmax reported that once applicants could load the website and actually submit applications, the Obamacare website failed to send those applications to insurance companies, despite giving applicants a (bogus) policy number.

Obamacare has been an easy target for comedians, in part because of these numerous glitches. Jimmy Kimmel has poked fun at Obamacare, and so has Jimmy Fallon.