Officials at Covered California, the state's health insurance marketplace, have yet again removed an error-riddled physician and provider directory from Covered California's website.
The intention behind the much-ballyhooed feature — which is unique among health insurance marketplaces in the US — was to provide an online directory of doctors and other health care providers so that consumers shopping for a policy could easily find out who was and wasn’t on a plan they were considering.
This is especially important now, as many of the insurance companies that are selling polices through Covered California have narrowed their provider networks to those doctors and facilities that agree to reduced fees.
But the provider-finder feature never quite worked.
During the first week of open enrollment last October, the directory didn't work at all. A week later, Covered California officials announced it was fixed and working just fine.
But it wasn’t.
A couple days after that announcement, officials shut it down for two weeks for more fixes. Then, they put it back up — with a warning that it still needed more work and wasn't something consumers should solely rely on.
But Thursday evening, with more errors discovered on its provider list, Covered California says it pulled the faulty feature from the website again. It's unclear just how long it will stay offline — or whether it will ever return.
"We don’t have a firm date for returning it to the web site, and we are working with our plan partners at this time to figure out a process to ensure accuracy and reliability in the lists," Covered California Spokeswoman Anne Gonzales wrote in an email responding to a KPCC inquiry. "We will make every attempt to return the directory, if we can provide consistently accurate information for consumers," she added.
The California Medical Association (CMA), which represents about 40,000 doctors statewide, applauded the decision. In a statement the CMA said:
"The state’s exchange has done the right thing in trying to address the inadequacies and misinformation and, to that end, CMA will be as helpful as possible, but it is up to Covered California to get the provider directories promptly in order so that Californians can evaluate what kind of access each exchange plan offers."
Meanwhile, Covered California officials are advising those who relied on the directory information when choosing a health plan to verify the information with their insurance company. The agency notes that dissatisfied consumers can always cancel their plan and enroll in a different one before the end of open enrollment on March 31.