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As Open Enrollment Deadline Approaches, Insurers Scramble to Give Staffers Support

Open enrollment for members of Congress and their designated staff ends at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 9, and both chambers appear to be scrambling to help users confront DC Health Link glitches.

Briefings continue as the clock ticks toward what’s been described as a “hard deadline” by representatives of the District-operated insurance exchange created under the Affordable Care Act.

Since open enrollment opened Nov. 11, administrative officers in the House and Senate have repeatedly extended their offerings of one-on-one support sessions and posted step-by-step instructions complete with screenshots of the site.

House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel, who will retire at the end of this session of Congress, and the Office of the Secretary of the Senate have taken the lead on informing affected employees in their respective chambers.

On Nov. 24, Strodel sent out a letter to notify staffers that the CAO’s Office of Payroll and Benefits had “extended its daily open houses for congressional staff with questions concerning their healthcare options.”

The House community received another update from Strodel on Dec. 2 with a similar message. With the most recent extension, representatives from the exchange and the four insurance carriers will be on hand in the Longworth House Office Building for four hours a day through Friday.

On Nov. 26, Senate staff received a mass email with instructions on how to confirm their enrollment after selecting a program through the site. Confirmation was a point of contention during the question-and-answer portion of a Nov. 19 briefing for staff, who complained they kept encountering internal error messages.

The email included two PDF tip sheets with numbered instructions and red arrows pointing them in the right direction.

It also included the warning: “There has been NO extension of the Open Enrollment period. Open Enrollment ENDS December 9, 2013! You are strongly encouraged to enroll early!”

The Senate hosted an Open Season Benefits Fair for six hours Tuesday in the Hart Senate Office Building and will provide on-site assistance again Friday.

For House staffers, the next opportunity for in-person technical support and advice on selecting a plan from the four insurance carriers offering plans through the exchange is Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The health benefits fair in Cannon Caucus Room 345 will feature representatives from Aetna, CareFirst, Kaiser and United Healthcare.

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