WellPoint CEO says Obamacare public exchange problems persist

Tue Jan 14, 2014 1:58pm EST

Jan 14 (Reuters) - WellPoint Inc expects its growth to accelerate because of the expansion of health insurance through public exchanges and Medicaid under Obamacare, despite technology problems, Chief Executive Officer Joseph Swedish told an investor conference.

WellPoint, which runs 14 Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers under the Empire and Anthem brands, is planning for another bump in enrollment on the public exchanges ahead of the final March 31 deadline for 2014 coverage. After that, individuals without insurance will pay a fine to the government.

President Barack Obama's administration launched health insurance exchanges for individuals on Oct. 1 as part of the Affordable Car Act. About 2.2 million people had signed up for these plans by Dec. 28, most of them in December, the government said in a report on Monday. The deadline for 2014 was Dec. 24.

"We expect a similar bump in March in front of the second primary enrollment deadline," Swedish said during the presentation at the JP Morgan conference in San Francisco.

Enrollment was held back in the months following the Oct. 1 launch by technology issues on the HealthCare.gov site, which is run by the government and sells insurance in 36 states. The 14 other states running their own websites also had some technology problems.

Swedish said that, while the front-end has improved, the systems that transfer customer data behind the scenes are still being fixed. Problems with transferring that data has forced insurers to verify some sign-ups manually, and also caused applicant records to be duplicated or lost.

"There is still work to be done to address some of the back-end technology problems," Swedish said.

WellPoint competes against Cigna Corp and Humana Inc , whose CEOs have already spoken at the conference. Aetna Inc's CEO will speak on Wednesday.

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