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TMCNet:  Insurers, advisers say 'Obamacare' website working [The Montana Standard, Butte]

[December 04, 2013]

Insurers, advisers say 'Obamacare' website working [The Montana Standard, Butte]

(Montana Standard (Butte) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Dec. 04--HELENA -- Montana's "Obamacare" health insurance website, beset by technical problems since its Oct. 1 launch, finally appears to be stabilizing, as a steady stream of customers is starting to get through to buy coverage, insurers and consumer advisers said Tuesday.

"From everything I can tell, it's working," said Jerry Dworak, CEO of the Montana Health Co-op, one of three companies selling polices on the online marketplace at "There is a definite, definite improvement in everything, and it's very noticeable on our part." Dworak said the co-op had 100 people sign up Monday through the website and other insurers selling on the site said they're getting more sign-ups as well.

"We're starting to see a lot more success," said John Doran, director of strategic marketing services for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana. "There are still a few issues that need to be worked out, but overall the site is functioning much more effectively." Obama administration officials said Tuesday that 1 million people visited the website on Monday in the 36 states where the federal government is operating it.

Some had to be told to return later, when the traffic overloaded the site, and 60 percent of the 13,000 people who got the notification returned, said Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington, D.C.

Health officials and consumer advisers also reported some continued problems with verifying consumers' eligibility for subsidies, which help pay for the policies, and transferring accurate data about new enrollees to insurers.

The website, or health insurance online marketplace, is a key element of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Those needing health coverage are supposed to be able to use the website to shop for and buy individual health insurance policies -- and, if eligible, get federal subsidies to help pay for the plans.

The website barely worked at all when it was launched Oct. 1 in Montana and 35 other states. The Obama administration reported two weeks ago that only 218 Montanans signed up for a policy through the website during the entire month of October.

After the administration hired technical help to fix the website's problems, President Barack Obama predicted the site would be largely functional by Sunday.

Todd Lovshin, Montana director for PacificSource, another firm selling policies on Montana's website, said Tuesday he's getting "every indication" that the site is beginning to work properly.

"Our brokers are reporting that they're getting people through, and we're getting files with enrollment information that is good," he said.

Bataille said Tuesday that a team of contractors and CMS officials are working to solve problems with the enrollment files, which have been sent to insurers with incomplete information on people who've signed up for policies.

She recommended that when people complete their application and buy a policy, they call the insurer to confirm their enrollment.

She also said a new feature of the website is a "reset" function, allowing people to erase an old application that was having problems and start a new one.

Christine Kaufmann, navigator coordinator for the Montana Primary Care Association, said Tuesday the reset feature should be extremely helpful, because many people who signed up early for accounts get stuck in the system and can't shop for a policy.

Kaufmann's group trains counselors who work at federally funded health clinics around the state, so they can help low- and middle-income clients enroll in health insurance policies through the website.

The counselors have been frustrated by the website's early problems, but "I just talked to our person on the ground in Billings, who reported really good success (this week), and they're pretty excited," Kaufmann said.

___ (c)2013 The Montana Standard (Butte, Mont.) Visit The Montana Standard (Butte, Mont.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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