Healthcare marketplace faces first day glitches
By Matt Mikus and Christin Nance Lazerus email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org October 1, 2013 11:16PM
Community Healthcare System navigator and financial counselor supervisor Yvette Hernandez tries to log on to healthcare.gov, but the site issues a message about high traffic volumes and delays. | Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 3, 2013 6:32AM
The first day of online shopping for health insurance under Obamacare was not without its problems.
Some Northwest Indiana customers said Tuesday that they were having issues with the online site where they were supposed to sign up.
Those who qualify can now buy a plan at Healthcare.gov and qualify for tax subsidies. But some customers said the service was slow, while others couldn’t log on to the site at all.
The Obama administration said those problems are actually a sign of the popularity and success of the health insurance marketplace.
“Like every new law, every new product rollout, there are going to be some glitches in the sign-up process along the way that we will fix,” President Barack Obama said at a news conference Tuesday. “The reason is because more than 1 million people visited Healthcare.gov before 7 in the morning.”
He said that’s five times the number of users than the Medicare website has ever had at one time, and compared the site to Apple, which fixes new-product glitches as they go.
Republican opponents said it’s just a sign that the Affordable Care Act should be delayed for a year.
Traffic numbers for the website aren’t available for independent verification, but users trying to sign in noticed slow responses.
Angie Colburn, 32, of Crown Point, couldn’t make it past the website’s sign-in page, even trying the hour the exchange opened at — 11 p.m. Central time, or midnight Eastern time. She tried again at 5 a.m. Central, and during her lunch break. She had more success submitting her application by calling the exchange’s hotline, but she’s still hasn’t purchased a plan.
“The woman on the phone said she wasn’t sure what would happen next after I finished my application with her,” Colburn said. “You would have to go online to see what kind of subsidies, and I couldn’t even get past creating an account online. So I’m not really sure how you would purchase coverage today.”
Colburn hasn’t had health insurance for more than four years. She said her insurance options won’t fit her budget.
Joseph Kelly, 59, of Merrillville, attended a class at Lake County Public Library to learn about his options. He hasn’t tried to sign up for covereage online, but he said he wasn’t surprised to hear about first-day problems.
“I used to work for state government,” Kelly said. “And this kind of thing happens whenever there’s something new. When everyone tries to sign up at one time, things get flooded.”
Deanita Anguiano, a financial counselor with Community Healthcare System, is a navigator — someone trained to help others understand the law and sign up for coveage. She said she started an application with a woman at St. Catherine’s Hospital in East Chicago, but the Internet application process bogged down after a few minutes.
“We were able to set up her login, security questions and password, but once we got to that point, it backed up and we were unable to go further,” Anguiano said. “After about 30 minutes, we decided to reschedule the appointment. She was a bit anxious, but she understood because she had heard about the website delays on the news.”
Anguiano said the patient had been on the waiting list for the Healthy Indiana Plan for a year and she had questions about the costs and benefits of the “Bronze” plan.
Indiana officials opted not to set up a state exchange. Instead, it and some other states let the federal government set up an exchange with companies offering plans at Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze levels. Depending on income level, applicants can receive subsidies applied to their monthly premiums or their tax return.
The rollout is emphasizing Internet applications and assistance, but paper applications are available, as is help over the phone and in person. Karen Schneider, Community’s regional director of patient financial services, said they’ve received several inquiries through the system’s 934-8888 number and they’ll get the word out to uninsured patients in the coming weeks at various events.
“We weren’t really sure what the response was going to be today,” Schneider said. “It’s possible we may hire additional staff down the line or contract with outside vendors if we see the need.”
Beth Wrobel, CEO of HealthLinc Community Health Centers in Valparaiso, said navigators were having an easier time completing the application process as the day wore on.
“It shows the need that’s out there when close to 3 million people are trying to access the site,” Wrobel said. “We’re waiting about a week or two before scheduling appointments to let the initial excitement die down a bit.”
Dr. Janet Seabrook, executive director of Community HealthNet of Gary, said a few of her staff members were able to log in and get through the process. She’s heard of the slow log-in process, but those who got through found the site easy to navigate.
“We haven’t had any horror stories,” said Seabrook, “That seems to be the only glitch, but once they’re in they have some success.”
Lake County Public Library will host a series of classes to help answer questions on applying to insurance, and Lake County Minority Health Coalition will hold a meeting at Ivy Tech Gary campus at 5:30 Wednesday.
Debbie Rzepcynski, the Lake County Library skills teacher, believes many people are waiting to sign up.
“They know that they have some time, so I think a lot of people are waiting to see what’s happening and trying to find some answers before they sign up,” she said. “We’re going to continue to offer these classes through March to help people understand.”
Open enrollment will continue until March 31. Those who want to have coverage by Jan. 1 should sign up prior to Dec. 15.