ACA Round-Up: HealthCare.gov, Individual Mandate and IRS in the News

Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Michael Gomes
BenefitMall

In recent weeks, several new stories related to Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation issues were published that are of interest to Brokers and others, including reports covering ongoing Healthcare.gov security concerns, public reaction to the individual mandate, and IRS customer service challenges. 

HealthCare.gov’s Security Protocols Remain a Concern

According to a recent news report, government investigators will release a study later this year about multiple cybersecurity incidents that occurred on HealthCare.gov. The author of the study, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), received a list of incidents from U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and is now analyzing them.

This study will be important because Americans inputted sensitive information such as Social Security numbers and other personal information, making the website a target for hackers. Despite the appeal for criminals, it is currently unclear whether or not intruders gained access to a HealthCare.gov server more than once—thankfully, the hackers neither viewed nor took any personal information, as far as we know today.

The GAO has been critical of the federal Exchange’s security before. A 78-page report released last year “described a series of technical steps investigators said CMS did not take while constructing and repairing the sprawling website… The agency did not require strong password controls for systems supporting the site, implement consistent security patches or properly configure the administrative network, for example.” 

Public Perception of Healthcare.gov Still Tainted

In addition to the persistent technical concerns, the federal Exchange was recently ranked last in a list of government brands that provide a quality consumer experience. The Fiscal Times was quick to note that the 49,000 people surveyed interacted with at least one government brand—not necessarily with HealthCare.gov. So, the results don’t necessarily suggest that users are having a poor experience.

However, the poll seems to be clear about one issue, “The public’s perception of the website is still crippled by its nightmarish rollout in the fall of 2013 when a plague of technical problems made it extremely difficult for people to sign up for coverage.”

So far, the government has spent at least $2 billion on HealthCare.gov, including efforts to build, then repair, the website, as well as the enormous state-by-state outreach effort. Despite the amount of money already spent, the government may need to spend more to convince the American public that HealthCare.gov is no longer “a technical nightmare”.

On a more positive note, the latest Kaiser Family Foundation survey poll reports the approval of the ACA is at an all-time high with 43 percent of Americans supporting the new law and 42 percent opposing it. This is the first time supporters have outnumbered opponents.  

Individual Mandate Public Perceptions

A central, and often disliked, part of the ACA is the individual mandate.  The mandate was implemented to ensure that the insurance market would promote a “balanced” risk pool of healthy and sick people to help spread the insurance risk and keep premiums from skyrocketing upwards. While this provision sounds like it may be helpful, polling data reports that 64% of the public dislike the individual mandate.

Although there wasn’t a massive backlash against the individual mandate this time around, the Kaiser Foundation and others will continue tracking public attitudes and perceptions related to key aspects of the ACA including the individual mandate.  

Phone Calls Overwhelm IRS System

Due to the ACA tax consequences associated with the individual mandate, monitoring the IRS is more important than ever.  To that end, the IRS recently reported that it hung up on more than 8 million customers during tax filing season. This process, referred to as customer service agents as “courtesy disconnects”, occurs when too many people call at once. A person will “answer” the phone for a brief second, and then hang up on the customer, rather than ask the caller to wait on the line for more than an hour. Only 40 percent of people who weren’t disconnected actually got to speak to a representative—after waiting 30 or more minutes. 

Comparatively, last year, customer service dropped 360,000 calls. The overwhelmed phone system is a direct result of the IRS diverting $134 million in user fees to other areas of interest, as Congress had recently slashed their budget. To read more about the IRS budget issues, click here.

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned as we continued to report on the challenges facing the ACA, as well as any other issues affecting Brokers.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position, or opinions of BenefitMall. This update is provided for informational purposes. Please consult with a licensed accountant or attorney regarding any legal and tax matters discussed herein.