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Covered California again pulls faulty doctor list from its website

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 19:  A healthcare reform specialist helps people select insurance plans at the free Affordable Care Act (ACA) Enrollment Fair at Pasadena City College on November 19, 2013 in Pasadena, California. The event, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles Association of Health Underwriters, offers one-on-one sessions with insurance experts certified by Covered California to help people enroll for healthcare coverage under the ACA.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
David McNew/Getty Images
Researching health insurance plans on the Covered California website.

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.

RELATED: Covered California enrollment still on track through early January

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: 

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.