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Navigators hopeful online health marketplace will soon offer better service

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, at 2:23 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, at 11:09 a.m.

Navigators who were hired to help people enroll in the new online health insurance marketplaces as part of the Affordable Care Act say they are hopeful the website will be running more smoothly in the next few days – more than a week after it was originally scheduled to operate.

Cathy Harding, executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, said she has been told by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services regional office in Kansas City that the website should have glitches worked out in the next several days.

Representatives from the regional CMS office could not be reached by The Eagle. Employees in that office are on furlough because of the federal government shutdown, according to recorded phone messages.

Since opening Oct. 1, the www.HealthCare.gov website has not been fully operational. Before people can sign up for coverage, they first have to create an account with their basic information.

The issues that the website has had are “all about volume,” Harding said.

“It shows how much interest people have in it,” she said.

It’s unclear how many people have been able to sign up for coverage on the website, and federal officials have not released any information on the number of people enrolled nationally.

Harding’s group, which oversees about 80 of the state’s certified navigators through a federal grant, hasn’t heard of a single person who has been able to enroll using the online system.

The state insurance department said earlier this week that there have been transactions, but it’s unclear how many. The private insurance companies that are selling plans on the marketplace are not yet releasing numbers.

However, people can still sign up the old fashioned way using paper applications, which are available to download and print from the website.

“Clearly everybody is a little frustrated,” Harding said. “People spent significant amounts of time training and their sole desire is to help people sign up. With the system not working as intended, we’re handcuffed on that.”

Harding said they are telling people not to panic and encouraging them to wait to sign up. They have until the end of December to sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1.

“They still have plenty of time,” she said.

When the website works, people who create accounts should be able to put in the state where they live and basic information, such as household income and the number of people in their household.

Plans in Kansas will be offered through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, Blue Cross of Kansas City, Coventry Life and Health, and Coventry Health Care of Kansas.

The companies offer a range of plans, with various levels of out-of-pocket expenses for consumers. Currently, the only way to see some specific plan names and cost estimates on the federal marketplace – before calculations for tax credits based on income, and without creating an account – is to go to www.healthcare.gov/find-premium-estimates.

Depending on income, some people will qualify for government subsidies or tax credits to help offset the cost.

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

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