Public comment window extended on Kemp plan to block ACA shopping site

A proposal by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp under consideration at the Trump administration would block Georgians' access to the health insurance shopping website healthcare.gov.  Georgians who try to access the website would be diverted to information about private insurance sellers. (PHOTO via Dreamstime/TNS)
A proposal by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp under consideration at the Trump administration would block Georgians' access to the health insurance shopping website healthcare.gov. Georgians who try to access the website would be diverted to information about private insurance sellers. (PHOTO via Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Feds act after AJC reported their comment feature was broken

People who want to comment on Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to block Georgians' access to the Affordable Care Act health insurance shopping website healthcare.gov now have six more days to weigh in.

The new deadline for public comment on the proposal is Sept. 23, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told the AJC on Thursday night. It extended the deadline after the AJC discovered that the email address posted for submitting public comment was incorrect and reported it.

If the Trump administration approves Kemp’s plan, parts of the Affordable Care Act law would be set aside. The law allows for such “waivers” in order to tailor federal policies to states' individual needs. But waivers can be granted only if the public is asked to comment, and only if the administrations take those comments into consideration in formulating the final plan.

ExploreKemp's plan to block the federal ACA insurance exchange under fire

The AJC discovered two mistakes in the email address posted on the department’s website instructions for commenting. The errors weren’t apparent to people reading the instructions. But they activated when a user clicked on the live link, or copied and pasted it.

The department did not say why it was allowing barely one additional week of comment, when the incorrect address was apparently posted until near the end of the full 30-day comment period.

ExplorePublic comment function broken on Kemp proposal to block ACA website

Kemp’s plan to block use of the healthcare.gov website, where people can shop for health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, has the potential for a bigger impact on Georgia’s health insurance landscape than any event in years. Critics say it could result in up to 100,000 Georgians winding up without health insurance. The Kemp administration counters that it would add perhaps 25,000 Georgians to the insured rolls.

Nothing would change about the plans that are actually available. But the 400,000 residents of Georgia who enrolled in health insurance on healthcare.gov would have to find another place to shop and enroll.

Some features of the healthcare.gov website are that it shows shoppers only plans that comply with the law offering “essential health benefits” such as prescriptions and psychiatric coverage, and that it automatically applies the federal subsidy that people would receive, thus showing shoppers what they would actually pay for a given plan. Then it puts the plans and prices in one place where shoppers can compare.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has asked the federal government to allow the state to block access to the federal Affordable Care Act exchange website, healthcare.gov. Critics say that would be an obstacle to people signing up for health coverage. Kemp says it would redirect users to more choices and tie them more seamlessly into the state's health care options. (PHOTO by Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has asked the federal government to allow the state to block access to the federal Affordable Care Act exchange website, healthcare.gov. Critics say that would be an obstacle to people signing up for health coverage. Kemp says it would redirect users to more choices and tie them more seamlessly into the state's health care options. (PHOTO by Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)

Under Kemp’s proposal, all those insurance plans and subsidies would still be available to Georgians. But when people try to go to healthcare.gov they’d be diverted and given contact information for private industry sellers. Those might be the insurance companies themselves, or private agents or brokers. The Kemp administration has not yet confirmed which.

For his part, Kemp says private agents and brokers have an incentive to offer more plans than just the robust ones offered on healthcare.gov. If someone wants less health coverage for a shorter time, for example, they could easily find that instead from some private agents.

Kemp and his aides believe coverage would increase because people would have more choices and because private companies would work harder to sign people up. Critics contend that private agents have an incentive—a bigger fee—to sell weak plans to people who don’t understand the market.

The correct email address to comment on the Georgia proposal is stateinnovationwaivers@cms.hhs.gov . The department asks that people write “Georgia Section 1332 waiver comments” in the subject line of the email.

More information about the waivers can be found by going to the federal cms.gov website for 1332 Innovation Waivers, and scrolling down under “Georgia.”

Anyone who has gone to the website before and clicked on the web address while it was incorrect should not do that again without first clearing their browser cache. Another way to get around the old malfunction is simply to hand-type the correct address in your email, letter by letter.

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