Tue, Dec 10 2013
Mary Hualde, a navigator in Utah helping people sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, says healthcare.gov is finally working smoothly enough for her clients to enroll.
“It’s like a new world,” Hualde said this week about the Web portal that became the butt of jokes and an embarrassment to President Barack Obama after its troubled October launch frustrated millions.
While the website serving people in 36 states is still not perfect – insurers are concerned about getting incomplete or inaccurate consumer information -- navigators and insurance brokers say that since major repairs were done over Thanksgiving weekend, the system is working most of the time.
Enrollment figures released Wednesday show that more than 110,000 people signed up for plans through the federal portal in November, more than four times the number in October, but still lower than what some advocates hoped. Among states relying on healthcare.gov, Florida has the highest number of people choosing a plan over the two month-period (17,908), followed by Texas (14,038) and Pennsylvania (11,788).
The pace is expected to pick up this month as a result both of site improvements and the Dec. 23 deadline to enroll for coverage that begins Jan.1.
Based on the uptick, Obama administration officials said last night they are still on track to sign up 7 million people in new coverage by March 31, the close of open enrollment, as originally projected by the Congressional Budget Office. “We expect the bulk of enrollment will occur at the end of the enrollment period,” said Michael Hash, director of the Office of Health Reform.
Overall, counting signups through the 14 states running their own websites as well as through healthcare.gov, nearly 365,000 consumers have selected health plans -- nearly a third of them in California. An additional 803,000 have been found eligible for Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor.
View From The States
Since Thanksgiving weekend, navigators interviewed in five states served by healthcare.gov say they are seeing a surge of interest, particularly as more people learn the site is working better.
Patrick Kelly, a navigator with the Legal Aid Society of Roanoke Valley in southwest Virginia, said his appointment calendar is booked for the next two weeks, though he will try to squeeze in more because he doesn’t want to turn anyone away.
‘I’m going to have a hard time breathing through Dec. 23,” he said.
Now that healthcare.gov is working, Kelly said a big part of his job is helping consumers understand what they’re buying by explaining insurance terms like “deductibles,” “co-insurance” and “HMOs.” He credits healthcare.gov with providing a summary of benefits for each plan, which makes it easy for consumers to understand what’s covered and how much benefits cost. With one click, they can find out which doctors are in a plan (although experts say that consumers eager to stay with their doctors should double-check with them) and which prescription drugs are covered.