Experts say health exchange enrollment improving

The user experience on the health insurance exchange website has improved since the site’s Oct. 1 launch, said Jean Leonatti with the Central Missouri Area Agency on Aging (CMAAA).

“You can now create an account, and get further into the program before you hit glitches,” she said.

The exchange website, healthcare.gov, has plagued users nationwide. Some have been able to enroll, but others have been met with glitches and errors. Some people have even been unable to create an account on the site.

Leonatti, chief executive officer of CMAAA, said she assisted a woman with successfully enrolling in a plan a little more than a week ago.

“However, that has been the exception, not the rule,” Leonatti said.

The health exchange is a provision in President Barack Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The law ultimately seeks to require everyone to have health insurance in 2014, or otherwise pay a fine.

In some states, the exchange is operated by the state and in others, such as Missouri, it’s operated by the federal government. It is a one-stop shop for people to shop for health insurance. Some people may qualify for subsidies to help defray some of the costs.

Enrollment for all state exchanges began Oct. 1 and runs through March 31, 2014. Health coverage for those who enroll before Dec. 15 will begin Jan. 1, 2014.

Missourians can create an account on healthcare.gov and submit an application with personal and financial

information. Once verified, the site will tell you if you are eligible for subsidies and you can begin to shop for insurance.

CMAAA staff and clients have found the exchange does offer the potential for lower costs and better benefits.

“So, they (clients) want to continue, and are showing patience as we wait for the system to become fully functional,” Leonatti said.

The Community Health Center of Central Missouri (CHCCM) hasn’t had as much luck with the healthcare.gov website, which the Obama Administration hopes to have repaired by the end of this month.

“We’ve still been doing the paper applications, and are getting them mailed in,” said Sarah Russell, billing manager of CHCCM. “People will get a notice in the mail that indicates if they are eligible, and it will give them their tax cut eligibility. At that point, we’ll walk them through getting on the website to enroll in a plan.”

CHCCM and CMAAA received grants from the federal government to act as navigators, helping enroll the uninsured in new health coverage options through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Obama Administration has yet to release the data indicating how many people across the nation have successfully enrolled in coverage on healthcare.gov, but the administration did release last week that at least 700,000 people had completed the application process to see if they qualify.

Thomas McAuliffe, a policy analyst for the Missouri Foundation for Health, said of the 825,000 uninsured Missourians, the projection was that half of them would enroll in coverage on the exchange, also known as the marketplace.

Russell said she doesn’t have a specific number of those seeking assistance from CHCCM, but the demand has increased at the health center over the past month.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re absolutely slammed, but we stay busy,” she said. “Most people aren’t too worried (about the site not working). It just gives them a little bit of comfort to know that they have another option, and we can help them work through the paper process.”

Leonatti said CMAAA is giving people the option to keep their assistance appointment with the agency, knowing that it will be an educational effort.

“Or if they want to postpone until mid-November,” she said. “We also give them the option of using a paper application or using the call center.”

She said CMAAA will continue to take appointments and make sure the consumer has the correct expectations about what the agency can do at those appointments.

“I think as the word slowly leaks out from friend/neighbor to friend, we will see a big push from Nov. 30 to Dec. 15,” Leonatti said. “I think because of this bumpy start, people are going to have to hear from someone they know and trust about the cost savings and better benefits.”

She said the woman she helped successfully enroll on the exchange was one who received a cancellation notice from her insurer because her current plan didn’t meet minimum requirements under the ACA.

“However, she will now be on a plan that is about $250 a month less than she was paying, and she said it is much better benefits,” Leonatti said. “She was very happy.”

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