The Obama administration unveiled a new version of HealthCare.gov on Wednesday, with some improvements as well as at least one early mistake and a new challenge.
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Officials also said that HealthCare.gov won't display premiums for 2015 until the second week of November. Open enrollment season runs Nov. 15 through Feb. 15. Coverage can start as early as Jan. 1.
On the plus side, the health insurance website will feature a streamlined application for most of those signing up for the first time. Seventy-six screens in the online application have been reduced to 16, officials said. The site has been also optimized for mobile devices.
The goof is a mistranslation in large type on the home page of the Spanish-language version of the site. It's the very first word on the page. Trying to translate "get ready," someone came up with the wrong word in Spanish. The Spanish-language site had lots of problems last year, ranging from technology issues to clunky translations that left some native speakers puzzled.
This time, the website designers translated "get ready" as preparase. It should have been preparese — with an "e'' instead of an "a." The mistake appears twice on the Spanish home page, which is supposed to be a mirror-image of HealthCare.gov. Such a prominent error can unintentionally send a message that the site was not designed to professional standards.
HealthCare.gov is the online portal to subsidized private health insurance for consumers who don't have access to a job-based plan. It served 36 states last open enrollment season, while the remaining states ran their own insurance exchanges. The feds as well as some states experienced crippling technical problems, and officials are vowing things will be different this time.
"Where we are focusing in on is a successful consumer experience," said Andy Slavitt, a tech industry executive brought in by the Health and Human Services department to oversee the relaunch.
Insurers say one big challenge for next year will involve millions of returning customers. It's not really a technology issue, but a time crunch that also coincides with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Those returning customers will have just one month — until Dec. 15— to go back into their existing accounts and update their financial information. Acting by that date will ensure that they are getting the right amount of financial assistance with their premiums at the very start of the new plan year.
It's estimated that more than 6 million of the 7.3 million people who signed up under President Barack Obama's health law are receiving subsidies, which greatly reduce their premiums.
After those returning customers update their financial information, they'll have to enter a 14-charater plan identifier number on the website if they want to keep their current insurance policy.
The industry says insurers had hoped that number would be automatically provided by HealthCare.gov — but that wasn't possible.
Existing customers who do nothing will be automatically re-enrolled in their current plan as of Jan. 1. But they will receive this year's subsidy amount, which could be lower than what they'd be entitled to for 2015.
And that could mean sticker shock over their new monthly premiums.
Officials downplayed those industry concerns on Wednesday, saying many returning customers will want to shop around to make sure their current plan is still the best deal for them.
And those returning customers who miss the Dec. 15 date will still have until the end of open enrollment on Feb. 15 to update their financial information. The change would take effect March 1, and in the meantime they might have to pay more.