Montana’s Obamcare `marketplace’ still hardly working — and no word on eventual fix

2013-10-18T18:15:00Z 2013-10-19T07:05:04Z Montana’s Obamcare `marketplace’ still hardly working — and no word on eventual fixBy MIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
October 18, 2013 6:15 pm  • 

HELENA — Almost three weeks into the launch of Montana’s Obamacare online health insurance marketplace, the system is still mired in technical problems — and there’s no word yet when it will be fixed.

Insurers and health care groups trying to help uninsured Montanans use the system to buy subsidized insurance coverage say they know of only a handful of people who’ve actually bought policies.

And one insurer said the customer information it’s getting through the federally run online marketplace is often incomplete, forcing the company to manually check each new policyholder, to fill in the blanks.

“Every day it seems to be getting a little better, but the concern I have is it’s only getting better incrementally,” said Jerry Dworak, CEO of the Montana Health Co-op, one of three insurers selling policies on the Montana marketplace.

The marketplace, launched Oct. 1, is a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the 2010 federal health care reform law also known as Obamacare.

The online shopping center at www.healthcare.gov is supposed to allow people without health insurance to shop for an array of policies that take effect next year — and, for those who are eligible, authorize subsidies to help pay for those polices.

The federal government is running the marketplaces in 36 states, including Montana. Other states chose to run their own marketplace.

Since the Oct. 1 launch, the federally run marketplaces have had major problems, as most consumers have been unable to log in or shop for or buy a policy.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials are saying they and their contractors are working around the clock to fix the problems, but have given few details on the nature of the problems or when they’ll be fixed.

HHS officials aren’t yet releasing numbers on how many consumers have successfully used the marketplace to buy policies, in Montana or elsewhere — and may not until next month.

A spokeswoman for the agency claimed Friday that wait times to begin the online process have been “virtually eliminated,” and that “more consumers are creating accounts, completing applications and ultimately enrolling in coverage if they choose to do so at this time.”

However, those close to the system in Montana say they’re still seeing routine delays and technical glitches that are preventing most people from even entering or using the system, let alone buying policies.

Dworak said the Health Co-op has had about 30 people make it through the marketplace system and buy one of its policies.

John Doran, director of strategic marketing services for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, said some customers have been able to buy Blue Cross polices, but declined to say how many.

Officials with PacificSource, the third company selling on the marketplace, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Officials with two nonprofit Montana groups that have hired “navigators” — personnel trained to help people understand and use the marketplace — said they know of only six people they’ve helped buy a policy.

Insurers also say customer information files transferred from the federal system to private insurers selling the policies in Montana often are missing key information.

Dworak said the Co-op has received several electronic files on 15-20 customers at a time, but they’re often lacking information like addresses or number of dependents. Co-op personnel have to contact the customers to fill in the missing information, he said.

The Co-op can handle the work now, he said, but if the system starts processing hundreds or thousands of people at a time, and the transferred files are still missing information, “it will be awfully hard to reconcile them.”

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