Health marketplace opens with glitches
by Anna Oakes
Computer glitches and long wait times marked the opening day of enrollment in new health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, media across the nation reported Tuesday.
Citizens in North Carolina and 35 other states were eligible to enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace operated by the federal government, while other states set up their own exchanges. But visitors seeking to apply for coverage at healthcare.gov, the federal marketplace website, experienced delays in accessing the site or difficulty in navigating the application's security questions, media told staff of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services during a Tuesday conference call.
"This is Day 1 of a six-month process," said Marilyn Tavenner, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator, during the 4 p.m. call. "As we have said before, with any new product launch, there are going to be product glitches."
In response to questions about the security questions errors, Tavenner said the problem had been corrected and that "we added capacity and made some adjustments to the systems to handle that." But Watauga Democrat staff attempting to set up an account on the website around 4:45 p.m. Tuesday were unable to navigate past the application's security questions.
The ACA established the exchange model in an effort to provide affordable insurance policies to those who lack access to employer or government coverage.
Persons who enroll in an insurance plan through the exchange are eligible for a federal tax credit if their incomes are between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which is annual income of $11,490 for a single person or $23,550 for a family of four. Enrollees may choose between Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum plans, with Platinum offering the most coverage. In addition, some plans offer a catastrophic coverage option for people younger than 30.
Tavenner said that on average, each state offers 53 health plans to consumers through the marketplace and "most will be able to choose from multiple companies offering plans."
But in North Carolina, only two companies -- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas -- will sell plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace. A third, FirstCarolinaCare, withdrew its application to participate in the exchange last month.
According to a database at http://www.healthcare.gov/health-plan-information published on Tuesday, 14 individual plans are available to citizens in Watauga County, which is located in Rating Area 3 of 16 geographical rating areas in the state. Nine group plans are available. All are offered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
In addition, nine group dental plans are offered in Watauga County through MetLife and Guardian.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services last month released preliminary information on Health Insurance Marketplace premiums, sharing the lowest premiums available in the Catastrophic, Bronze, Silver and Gold plans for each North Carolina rating area. According to that chart, Rating Area 3 had the highest premiums in the state in each category.
Tavenner said that more than 2.8 million people have visited healthcare.gov since 12 a.m. Tuesday, but officials declined to release numbers on how many had thus far enrolled in plans, stating they were waiting for accurate data.
"We can confirm that people have enrolled throught both federal and state (exchanges)," Tavenner said.
Jim McElreath, president of First Pioneer Insurance Agency in Boone, said he experienced website issues while trying to enroll customers in plans on Tuesday.
"We have taken information from individuals, but we have not been able to do a complete enrollment," he said. However, agents are able to provide quotes and information until the website issues are resolved.
Eric Schneider, outreach and eligibility specialist with High Country Community Health, said he, too, experienced problems accessing the site and that he has delayed scheduling of enrollment appointments until next week to better acquaint himself with the new system.
"I'm sure people are going to be working extremely hard to make sure the issues get resolved as soon as possible," Schneider said. "Keep in mind that there are six months to sign up during the Marketplace open enrollment period from Oct. 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014."
CMS officials noted that the deadline to enroll in a Marketplace plan to be eligible for coverage beginning in January is Dec. 15.