Washington (CNN) - With less than six weeks left to purchase health insurance before open enrollment closes on new Obamacare exchanges, customers still shopping for a plan finally have an online option other than the government-run HealthCare.gov.
GetInsured, a private online insurance exchange, announced Wednesday that it has begun enrolling subsidy-eligible customers in Affordable Care Act plans entirely online.
“We’re grateful to our colleagues at HealthCare.gov for working diligently with us over the past few months to enable this technology breakthrough – the GetInsured online solution is great news for Americans who still need to enroll in health insurance and don’t want to spend a lot of time doing it,” Chini Krishnan, GetInsured co-founder and CEO, said in a statement.
For now, private exchanges like GetInsured are required to use a somewhat cumbersome process many experts call the “double redirect.”
Under this design, consumers can begin shopping for coverage on a private exchange. But to confirm their identity and determine their eligibility for a premium subsidy, they must first be directed to HealthCare.gov.
Then after entering their personal information and confirming it with the federal data hub, they are redirected back to the private exchange to select a plan and complete the enrollment.
Despite promises from the government that technical problems with the double redirect system have been solved, executives at some private exchanges still think the system is too complicated.
Private exchanges like eHealth.com and GoHealth.com have instead opted to determine individuals’ subsidy eligibility over the phone, using customer call centers to enroll low-income customers.
“It’s not working well enough yet,” said Michael Mahoney, senior vice president of consumer marketing at GoHealth.
“The last thing we want is for a consumer to call and say I don’t understand or I picked the wrong plan and for that to be our fault.”
GoHealth has been testing the online direct enrollment system with small groups of consumers, but Mahoney still believes that the system is too complicated.
“It’s built for a pretty advanced user,” Mahoney said, adding that his concerns are for the “consumer who gets confused, and stops somewhere during that process.”
Private companies like GoHealth and GetInsured are working with officials at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to improve the direct enrollment system.
Executives at both companies are optimistic that private exchanges like theirs will play a much larger role in the second open-enrollment period beginning later this year.
“I think it would be very smart to assume that in 2014, even the government wouldn’t push out a process where you have to redirect a user between multiple websites multiple times as a final solution,” Mahoney said. “There’s a difference between whatever duct tape was required to get to an October 1 launch and an ideal system.”
A potentially major improvement unlikely to be ready by the end of March would do away with the double redirect system entirely. This would allow consumers to shop for health insurance, determine their eligibility for a federal premium subsidy and select a plan entirely through a private health exchange.
Neither Mahoney nor Krishnan would confirm that such a system was in the works, but both expressed their preference for a process where customers could stay on their site throughout the entire enrollment process.
“We have every confidence in our collaboration with CMS and our continued work together to develop new innovations that further streamline the direct enrollment process during the next open enrollment season,” Krishnan said.
A CMS official dismissed the idea of a direct enrollment system that cut out the federal marketplace entirely, but acknowledged that improvements to the current system were in the works.
“All eligibility determinations must be processed through the FFM, however we are in ongoing conversations with web brokers and issuers on how to continue to improve the consumer experience for the next open enrollment period, and will provide more guidance as we finalize any new options,” the official said.