HELENA – While the “Obamacare” online health insurance marketplace in Montana is still hardly functioning, supporters say public interest remains high.
They also said they’re confident the Obama administration will get the bugs worked out, and urged people wanting to use the marketplace to buy health insurance to have patience.
“What we’re telling people is that they have time,” said Lindsay Love, communications manager for Planned Parenthood of Montana, which has hired several counselors to help people navigate the system.
Love and others said that while people may have trouble logging on to the online system, they can still use it and other sources to shop for and research available health-insurance policies.
Consumers have until Dec. 15 to buy a policy that takes effect Jan. 1, and can buy policies next year as well.
John Doran, director of strategic marketing services for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, said customers can go to the Blue Cross website, look at its policies available on the marketplace and even estimate their subsidy.
The only thing you can’t do at the company site is buy a subsidized policy, which can be done only by using the online marketplace.
The Montana Health Co-op, another firm selling policies on the marketplace, also has information on its website about policies, and has had many people stopping by its booths at recent health fairs, said CEO Jerry Dworak.
“We’re getting people coming in ready to buy,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of demand out there. Once they get (this) fixed, I think it will be a huge success.”
Jesse Laslovich, chief counsel for Montana’s insurance commissioner, Monica Lindeen, said the office is getting many calls from consumers frustrated by the problems with the marketplace.
He said the office has “every confidence” the federal government will get the system running.
“In order for this to work for the people in Montana and, ultimately, the country, people have to be able to go on the marketplace and enroll,” Laslovich said. “If this thing doesn’t work, then the whole thing falls apart. There is just no option but to make it work.”
He also said it’s unfortunate that Republicans in the 2011 Montana Legislature wouldn’t authorize the state to set up its own marketplace. State-run marketplaces are faring much better, he said, and Montana, as a small state, would have been able to fix any problems much more easily than the feds, who are trying to fix systems in 36 states.
One of the legislators leading the charge against Obamacare, however, said Friday that state-run marketplaces have had problems, too, and that the whole idea was bad to begin with.
Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge, predicted the feds will be trying to fix the problems with Obamacare and the marketplaces for years on end.
“It’s a half-baked program,” he said. “Any time a bunch of politicians tinker with 17 percent of the economy in a business they know nothing about, you should expect a disaster, which is what those of us opposed to it said all along. … It really is amateur hour.”