Looking toward the end of 2014 open enrollment in the Affordable Care Act’s health exchanges, Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said Thursday at an AHIP conference that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is expecting a “fairly significant spike in enrollments” — similar to that experienced at the end of December.

Cohen, whose end-of-month resignation was announced Tuesday, said Healthcare.gov has been continually tested and is expected to be able to handle a large influx of users toward the end of March. This expected spike is in conjunction with expanded advertising launches to remind people of the enrollment deadline and possible penalties.

For that outreach, Cohen said there are now more than 26,000 trained assisters nationwide, 12,000 call center staff and almost 50,000 agents and brokers available to help with individual enrollments, and 19,000 to help work with the SHOP exchanges. The outreach will also touch traditional media, including television, with many commercials expected to run during the NCAA Final Four tournament.

Speaking to the room of health care professionals in Washington, Cohen said the finish line is nearing and he understands those in attendance were asked to do more than they expected. “We asked you to do a lot of things that you expected the [Federally Facilitated Marketplace] would do. We understand that. We appreciate that,” he said.

Looking back on 2014 and the many bumps Healthcare.gov experienced, Cohen said the No. 1 thing he learned was that it is “hard work, it is complicated and it is going to take us some time. It is not a one-year project, it’s a multi-year project. … [We] continue to focus on the goal, which is to make sure people have coverage.

“We will continue to be more and more successful,” he added. “One specific thing we learned is how important it is to be as transparent as we can as early [as possible] both about policy and systems.” 

He added that the work on the exchange website continues. “We are working night and day, literally, to make improvements and enhance the customer experience,” he said.

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