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Unclear how many Kansans have signed up with online health insurance marketplace

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, at 6:43 p.m.

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More than a week after the new online health marketplace opened, it’s unclear how many Kansans have been able to sign up.

Officials from the Kansas Insurance Department say that transactions are being processed in Kansas, but insurance companies aren’t yet reporting any numbers.

And local navigators – those who have been specifically trained to help people enroll in the marketplace – say they haven’t had a single successful enrollment.

“As far as we know right now, on the federal marketplace, nobody has been able to get through,” said Nick Clasen, lead navigator at the Center for Health and Wellness.

“You first have to create an account to enroll and see if you’re eligible, and no one here has been able to do that.”

For now, they’re trying to educate people as best they can, Clasen said. They’re also trying things the old fashioned way: sending in paper applications.

But “most people say they’d rather wait” than fill out the paper applications, he said.

Juven Nava, GraceMed outreach coordinator and navigator, said they’ve had a lot of people call with questions.

“We’ve been honest with them from the beginning about the computer glitches. This is a transition. This is a process,” he said.

“Unfortunately when you have a system that’s not working, it breaks the trust of the consumer and it’s frustrating for them because they’re coming with questions and they want to know the facts. They’re tired of the rumors and myths. It’s a bit frustrating for us right now as well, but we’re saying ‘We have to be patient.’ ”

Some states chose to build their own marketplace websites, but the federal government’s site at www.HealthCare.gov is serving 36 states, including Kansas.

The marketplace – when operational – is planned to have several tiers of health plans from private insurance companies for people who are self-insured or don’t have access to an affordable health plan from their employer. It’s just one facet of the Affordable Care Act, which aims to lower health care costs by requiring nearly everyone to have health insurance by Jan. 1.

Federal officials say they don’t know how many people have been able to sign up so far, but they say the site has had millions of unique visitors since it opened – far more than initially expected.

The high traffic and the decision to require people to sign up for an account before browsing plans are likely the main culprits for the site’s technical problems, experts say.

The shutdown of the federal government hasn’t helped things either, with many federal employees on furlough. Clasen said they’ve called technical support lines and sent emails for help, but have had no responses.

“You just get an auto-reply email,” he said.

Debbie Chambers, navigator project coordinator for the Wichita area, said she hasn’t heard of a single person who has been able to sign up in Kansas.

“My own daughter went on and tried and wasn’t able to complete the process. It kicked her out,” she said.

“I think people will have to bear with the system and keep trying. Hopefully in next week or so the bugs get worked out.”

For now, the navigators are encouraging people who want to sign up to keep trying.

Clasen said he’s telling consumers to be patient and reminding them that open enrollment continues through the end of December for those who need coverage starting Jan. 1.

Contributing: Associated Press

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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