The Politics Blog

Wash. health exchange says it fixed glitch causing too-large tax credits

OlympianOctober 25, 2013 

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange reported a computer glitch Friday that led to miscalculations of tax credits for some 8,000 people who signed up for coverage on the Healthplanfinder web site. 

The error was found and corrected by agency staff and exchange leaders vowed to contact affected parties to be sure they have correct tax subsidies. They also said they were deploying extra staff to fix another problem this week - clients contacting the Healthplanfinder call center in Spokane were facing waiting times of 21 minutes on average

The non-governmental exchange agency put out a news release with a statement from its chief executive, Richard Onizuka:

“This week, Exchange staff uncovered and corrected a system error that has affected some 8,000 Washington Healthplanfinder applicants applying for qualified health plans. This error caused applicants to qualify for higher than expected tax credit amounts than allowed based on their income level or household size.

Working with the federal government, our IT team traced the issue to inconsistent file formats being shared between Washington Healthplanfinder and the Federal Data Services Hub.

The investigation revealed that the two systems were using different parameters to establish estimated household income. As a result, some Washington Healthplanfinder applicants did not receive the correct tax credit information related to their premiums.

Exchange staff acted immediately and implemented a system fix on Oct. 23, 24 hours after identifying root cause, so that no further applicants will be impacted.

This issue does not affect people’s eligibility determinations for the more than 40,000 Medicaid eligible applicants and individuals buying plans without premium tax credits – close to 90 percent of customers currently enrolled in health coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder. Also, no payments have been processed and we have until Dec. 23 to correct applications that were already submitted.

The Exchange is very disappointed to have discovered this issue and we find the situation unacceptable. Our staff will not stop working until we have notified all those affected and helped each and every one of our customers to ensure they have the correct tax credit amount and can choose the best plan to meet their needs and budget.

In addition to updating our system, we are also doubling the number of staff in our toll-free Customer Support Center over the next few weeks to alleviate higher than projected call volumes and wait times that many individuals have experienced.

Again, we want to sincerely apologize to the affected customers and thank everyone for their patience and commitment to ensuring that every resident has access to quality health coverage.”

Friday’s announcement comes as Washington’s online insurance-signup system is being portrayed nationally as an example of one that is functioning well. It reported earlier this week that more than 35,000 people obtained insurance through the first few weeks.

Like the federally run exchanges, Healthplanfinder had a few difficulties during its opening days when consumers could not access the site, but it soon was able to sign up people directly for private insurance plans – unlike the launch of Oregon’s system.

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