Obamacare: Fear, doubt and confidence crisis, Dem senator warns

The HealthCare.gov home page on Oct. 28, 2013

A top administration official assured a Senate committee Tuesday that the administration has a plan to restore confidence in the Affordable Care Act and recruit young people to enroll in the new insurance marketplace once HealthCare.gov, the glitchy Obamacare marketplace website, is running smoothly.

"Our goal is to stabilize this website this month," Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), told the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Once that's complete, the administration plans to roll out a "targeted plan" to encourage young people and other contingents of largely uninsured Americans. Asked if the Obama administration can restore confidence in the law, Tavenner said unequivocally, "Yes."

Tavenner was responding to concerns from Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who told her the rollout of the Obamacare marketplace "has been more than bumpy."

The botched website launch, combined with the fact that millions of Americans on the individual market are being dropped from their plans, has created "fear, doubt and a crisis of confidence," Mikulski said, noting that around 73,000 people in her state of Maryland alone have reportedly had their plans cancelled.

"What I worry about is there's such a crisis of confidence, that people won't enroll... particularly our young people," Mikulski said.

Estimated Number of People Eligible for Premium Tax Credits Under the Affordable Care Act

Source: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

The new marketplace has only been open for one month, and the open enrollment period lasts through the end of March, so it's too early to judge enrollment levels on the marketplace. However, insurers say that the people enrolling so far are older than expected, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Premiums on the Obamacare marketplace at this point are lower than they were predicted to be, but without a sufficient pool of younger, healthier people joining, the cost of premiums on the market would presumably rise. Some have expressed concern that rising premiums would drive even more healthy people out of the market, creating a vicious cycle that would crash the new marketplace -- that, however, is unlikely because of mechanisms built into the law. Still, premiums could increase and the cost to consumers and taxpayers could be higher than expected.

Tavenner said that the media campaign to invite young people to join the marketplace won't start until HealthCare.gov is running smoothly by the end of this month. On top of that, the administration plans to reach out to people who tried but failed to enroll in a plan on HealthCare.gov in the first week after its Oct. 1 launch.

"We're going to reach back out to them and invite them to come back," Tavenner said, remarking the administration has made significant improvements to the website since then.