Glitch Leaves Nearly A Thousand On The Hook For Promised Subsidies

Jan 27, 2014

The federal subsidies are what’s supposed to make Obamacare work; people who wouldn’t be able to afford a decent health plan get help to offset the cost.

But nearly a thousand people who bought plans on Washington’s exchange have learned they’ll be on the hook for the full premium this month.  

About 950 people who were supposed to get retroactive coverage won’t have their promised subsidies discounted from their January bill. They’ll still get the money, but they’ll have to wait until they do their taxes in 2015.

Jack Brown, who has a blood cancer called multiple myeloma, is one of them. He was in the doctor’s office with an IV in his arm when he learned something was wrong.

“All of a sudden it came to a halt, and my doctor said they cannot verify I have medical insurance, even though I had proof that I’d purchased it through the exchange. Ended up [with] them pulling the IVs from my arm,” he said.

It’s not clear whether the subsidy glitch caused that disruption, but it was the culprit in what happened next. He needed to activate his coverage to reschedule the appointment and receive his other cancer treatments. But he was told he owed another $775 to cover what the feds were supposed to have paid.

“I was under the assumption that everything was fine and dandy,” said Brown. “It’s like they changed their mind. And now all of a sudden I’m in a bind, not only financially, but not getting the health care that I need.”

Brown decided to skip coverage for January and put off his treatments until next month. All the meds he’d already bought, the earlier doctor visits that should have been covered — that stuff he says he’ll have to just cover himself.

Brown’s insurance broker Rebecca Evans says he is not her only client in that bind.

“If it’s an internal error, I just feel that it’s morally irresponsible to put that onto the general public to pay for that error,” Evans said.

Exchange spokesman Michael Marchand says the exchange can’t just cover the subsidy for the affected patients as the terms of the system’s federal funding won’t allow it. He says the staff simply wasn’t able to finish processing this group of nearly a thousand in time.

“Some of the applications, due to their composition and trying to iron out the creases, we just were not able to get to everyone we wanted to get to. And it’s disappointing. We’re disappointed by this," Marchand said.

Marchand says the problem should be corrected next month. That would let Jack Brown finally get the cancer treatments he was supposed to have had by now.