Sept. 11—Creation of a key component of coming health insurance marketplaces was completed three weeks early, a government watchdog official testified Wednesday.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) told the Office of Inspector General (OIG) that the central "data hub" designed to provide a variety of information on applicants to all state health insurance marketplaces was finished on Sept 6, according to Kay Daly, assistant inspector general for audit services. She testified Sept. 11 on the security status of the exchanges before the House Homeland Security Committee.

Although OIG did not independently verify CMS’s claim, it would mark a significant improvement in delays that have plagued creation of the national insurance marketplace, or exchange, program authorized by the Affordable Care Act. The exchanges are a central provision of the healthcare law and will offer private insurance plans for individual and small group markets.

Data Hub Key to Insurance Marketplace Readiness

The data hub is a key component of the exchanges that will allow real-time determinations of applicants' eligibility for enrollment and subsidies. But the hub's functions also carry high security requirements because they will access a range of sensitive personal information from several disparate federal agencies.

The OIG reported Aug. 2 that CMS had delayed by weeks or months the expected completion dates for a range of security-related components of the federal data sharing tool. A key finding was that security checks on the data hub were not expected to be completed until the day before the Oct. 1 start of enrollments in all of the state insurance marketplaces.

In separate testimony to various congressional panels this week, contractors working on various parts of the marketplaces have given cautiously upbeat assessments of the readiness of the exchanges.

For instance, W. Brett Graham, a partner and managing director at Leavitt Partners, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee Sept. 10 that "while baseline functionality of state-based exchanges will be up and running on Oct. 1, it can be expected that most, if not all, exchanges will experience a rocky enrollment period as they work to overcome both known and unknown operational challenges."

The ease with which enrollees can sign up for the exchanges is described by health policy experts as one of the key factors that will determine the success of the exchanges. An estimated 7 million people will enroll in the exchanges in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and they need to include many healthy people in order for participating plans to maintain their solvency.

Publication Date: Wednesday, September 11, 2013