We’re bringing you an update on how health coverage enrollment is going on the health care exchanges, which went live on Tuesday and is the core of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Insurers are reporting more of a slow and steady purchasing trend than a massive tidal wave. But hey, we know what wins the race.
Today’s Key Takeaways:
* Aetna, Cigna and Blue Cross confirmed to Kaiser Health news that they have enrolled customers trough the federal online marketplace.
*According to the Wall Street Journal, Cigna Corp confirmed its first enrollee Thursday, and WellPoint Inc. reported receiving enrollees Thursday. Both CI and WLP are rising on the stock market currently.
* BlueCross BlueShield of Louisiana got seven enrollees Wednesday night from a federal computer data transfer, though one reportedly could be a duplicate.
* Healthcare.gov, the federally run exchange that serves 36 states experienced 6.1 million unique visitors since opening for business 8 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (though some other reports say 7 million).
* New York doubled its system capacity on day two, easing the initial overwhelm; at least 12,000 users viewed options or filled out applications.
* Maryland (my home state) took the award for most troubled state-run exchange website. Staff resorted to paper applications on both day one and two due to extreme delays in account creation, which is steps one through four in the enrollment process.
* Colorado, Connecticut and Nevada reported taking less than 20 seconds to start buying a health plan on their exchanges, which one does by entering age, annual income and zip code, reported Kaiser Health News.
* Nevada’s exchange had 77,000 unique visitors by Wednesday night, and 19,000 accounts were created.
*A United Way in Texas reported it had not gotten one person completely through the four-step enrollment process.
* Kentucky reported its day one snafus, but was able to up capacity and successfully eased the process on day two; indeed, Wednesday afternoon Kentucky HQ celebrated getting its 100,000 user through prescreening for Medicaid or federal subsidies eligibility.
* Minnesota and Nevada officials reported having difficulty communicating with the federal system home base in order to verify users’ eligibility and identity. (By the way, Nevada’s $72 million contract to construct its state-run exchange went to Xerox.)
Yesterday, around 2 p.m. it was reported by The New York Times that demand on the federal- and state-run healthcare exchange website remained high but that technical delays and glitches such as security questions malfunctioning, insufferable wait times and come-back-later messages continued.
What’s Causing the Hiccups
Critics say that neither federal- nor state-run exchanges were sufficiently tested before launch to suss out the snags. While the Obama administration and contractors who built the federal online system cite high volume as the culprit, analysts suggested to Kaiser Health News that software flaws and design bugs may also be a hindrance. What’s clear is that if the problems are not fixed by next week’s end, this could start to roadblock enrollment, one analyst told Kaiser Health News. Regardless of what’s really causing all the delays, officials say they are working to improve system capacity.
Some say that the sites created by individual states are faring better because many of them allow people to browse plans without creating accounts, which taxed servers less.
What It All Means
Some are quick to say this means the system isn’t very good or just doesn’t work. But Paul Krugman isn’t worried, writing in the Times that what conservatives may fear most is that Obamacare will actually be a success.
Writes Krugman, “Liberals favored health reform because it would work and it might enhance their ability to push for other policies; conservatives were and are determined to kill health reform — even though it would work — in fact, precisely because it would work — because it might weaken the rest of their agenda.”
Reactions to Delays
Enrollment counselors’ feathers, for the most part, also appear not to be ruffled, citing the long amount time left for people to enroll (to receive coverage starting on Jan. 1, people have until Dec. 15 to enroll, and the enrollment period extends beyond that to March 31, 2014).
Still, the healthcare exchanges must be careful. Consumer frustration is hard to overcome. While you may get those with serious health conditions and immediate needs to keep going back, for that group of young and healthy adults who are not fully convinced they need health insurance, too many failures to get far in the process may keep them from ever coming back.
By the Numbers, Insurance Purchasers
Still, some who have persevered and overcome the delays are reporting victory. Kaiser Health News reported the story of a 22-year-old college student in Orlando, FL, whose attempt opening day failed, along with a handful of attempts Wednesday morning, until at last he could enroll. He chose the Gold-Level plan (there are bronze, silver and gold, from lowest to highest costing). The $279 monthly premium was cut to $70 a month, thanks to a federal subsidy.
The Wall Street Journal told the story of a 28-year-old freelance filmmaker in Hollywood, CA, who will pay $62 out of pocket each month (lowered from $213.58 based on his annual income of about $20,000) for the plan he purchased Wednesday. His Health Net plan, which he told the paper was “a great deal,” has a $2,000 deductible (that subsidies lowered to $500 a year) and a $45 co-pay for doctors, reported the Journal.
Still, success seems to vary widely by state. One community center director in South Carolina told Kaiser Health News she has been trying for three days to get onto the federal exchange to look at prices in the Carolinas without any luck.