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Experts Suggest Software Problems, Not Just Demand, May Be Behind Marketplace Glitches

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More than a dozen states constructed their own portals for the policies sold to individuals, families and small businesses. Many were reported to be working better than the federal site, partly because they allow shoppers to browse plans without going through the trouble of creating an account, which reduces the burden on the servers.

Besides being unable to enroll in plans, consumers in the 36 states dependent on the federal exchanges can’t get basic information about their insurance options.

In comparison, it takes less than 20 seconds to start shopping for a health plan on the Nevada, Colorado and Connecticut exchanges where you can get a list of plans and prices by entering your zip code, age and annual income.

Kevin Walsh, senior vice president of eligibility and insurance exchange services at Xerox, said about 75 percent of the people using the Nevada exchange so far are anonymously browsing. Xerox is the key private contractor that helped build the Nevada exchange. “It was part of our plan to make the site as user friendly and non-intimidating as possible,” he said.

The Nevada web site has had 77,000 unique visitors as of Wednesday night and nearly 19,000 user accounts were created.

While many insurers have declined to furnish enrollment numbers, some say the federal site has worked for at least a few customers.

“We’re beginning to see people enroll as of last night,” Cigna spokesman Joe Mondy said Thursday. “As of yesterday, I was telling folks it’s not working. As of last night, they’ve been trickling in. And I do mean trickling. We’re not seeing waves of folks.”

BlueCross BlueShield of Louisiana got seven enrollees in a Wednesday evening data transfer from federal computers, although one may have been a duplicate, said Michael Bertaut, a senior economist for the plan.

Unlike some other insurers, the Louisiana insurer ran a week of successful tests with the federal system before going live this week, Bertaut said.

Aetna also confirmed it had enrolled consumers from the federal system, but did not disclose any numbers. 

The nation’s largest health insurer, UnitedHealthcare, did not respond to requests for information.

At Health Care Service Corp., a multi-state Blues system based in Illinois, “we can't confirm the end-to-end completion of enrollment activity via the marketplace,” spokeswoman Lauren Perlstein said Thursday.

Instead, HCSC was pointing customers to its own site, where the company is accepting applications and following up with people to complete enrollment.

Cigna was doing the same thing.

“Most people are going to look on the exchange and see what plans are out there and at some point they’ll want to go beyond the exchange to the portals of the carriers they’re interested in,” Mondy said.

Thu, Oct 03 2013

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