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High interest, shuttered agencies cited among reasons behind health insurance marketplace troubles

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, at 7:58 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, at 10:26 a.m.

Wichitans again were stymied Wednesday in trying to enroll for health insurance and subsidies to pay for it under the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

For the second day, Wichita health care navigators were unable to help consumers through the federally run online insurance marketplace at www.healthcare.gov.

Since the site went live at midnight Monday, it’s been plagued by system overload and technical glitches rendering it virtually unusable. On Wednesday, little had changed except for the graphics warning consumers that they’d have to wait.

Navigators at the Wichita Center for Health and Wellness, one of several local nonprofits that are trying to assist people with the online insurance marketplace, were unable to sign anyone up for their ACA benefits Wednesday.

Ditto at the GraceMed Clinic, which also has navigators standing by for when the site starts working properly.

“There’s been a lot of little hiccups getting signed on and getting past the security questions,” said Teresa Lovelady, chief executive of the Center for Health and Wellness.

The center also couldn’t get through to anyone by phone or using the site’s online live chat feature, she said.

Lovelady said she thinks the problem is probably a combination of overwhelming traffic to the site and the ongoing shutdown of federal agencies as Republican members of Congress use their spending control to try to pressure Democrats to delay and/or scale back the national health plan.

Although the health marketplace is supposed to work even with much of the government shut down, its computers have to interact with other agencies’ systems to verify applicants’ immigration status and income, Lovelady said.

Approximately 10 people who sought help Wednesday were given information and pre-screened for eligibility, then asked to come back Monday to try again on enrollment, Lovelady said.

“We’re trying our best – we have faith and patience,” she said. “We’re not frustrated, we’re still excited and optimistic.”

GraceMed is also scheduling consumers to come back next week, said Juven Nava, who’s directing the ACA navigators there. He said that should be enough time for the glitches to be repaired.

“The last thing I want is for people to come in – again – and have the same thing happen,” he said.

Consumers have until Dec. 15 to enroll to have their new insurance and subsidies begin on Jan. 1.

The enrollment period is scheduled to run through the end of March, although people who miss the Dec. 15 deadline could have to wait as long as six weeks after enrollment for their benefits to take effect.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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