Health Exchanges Brace For A December Deluge

The race is on to get the federal insurance website working smoothly by the end of November.

And it’s not just because that’s what federal officials have promised. December could see a surge in demand for health insurance.

“There is an avalanche coming,” says Bryce Williams, managing director for exchange solutions at the benefits consulting firm Towers Watson.

Williams says the firm knows from years of experience with open enrollment for Medicare patients, that the Monday after Thanksgiving is always the single busiest day for business.

“People will have been thinking about this over the holidays and talking to family members, and they are going to feel an impetus to do something on that Monday; and there is going to be a huge crush,” he said.

Why December? Well, it finally represents a deadline. Originally you had to sign up by Dec. 15 in order to have your insurance coverage begin Jan. 1. Last week the administration extended the deadline to Dec. 23.

Robert Laszewski, who runs his own health consulting firm, Health Policy and Strategy Associates, says there are still two big groups that will try to squeeze through the tight enrollment window.

One group includes those who have received cancellation notices from their insurance companies and who need insurance that meets the health law’s new requirements.

The other group includes people who have been shut out of coverage until now because of pre-existing conditions and who have been waiting for to get its act together.

“We’ve got all these people that have been sitting desperately next to their computers trying to get enrolled in guaranteed-issue health insurance that has subsidies for the first time in American history,” said Laszewski. “And they’re looking forward to coverage on Jan. 1.”

The administration says it’s ready — or will be by its self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline. The website should be able to handle 50,000 users at the same time by the end of this month, repair czar Jeffrey Zients told reporters in a conference call Friday. That would double its current capacity.

But he said the administration isn’t depending on the website alone to

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