Idaho insurance exchange hits opening-day snags

Idaho insurance exchange hits opening-day snags
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's $70 million insurance exchange hit opening-day snags Tuesday, as did exchanges across the nation, with online applications being processed much more slowly than anticipated due to high Internet volume that hampered efforts to create accounts or enroll in health coverage.

Amy Dowd, director of Idaho's exchange, blamed problems on the federal government's technology platform, saying the nearly 3 million people who had deluged the site by midday Tuesday were creating bottlenecks and headaches nearly everywhere.

Dowd suggested that people seeking help contact Idaho's call center at (855) 944-3246 for assistance — or visit the Idaho exchange's www.yourhealthidaho.org site that includes a locator tool meant to connect people seeking coverage with insurance agents and others trained to help them in their area.

Otherwise, she advised people to simply delay their efforts to enroll for what come 2014 will be mandatory insurance — until the site is working more efficiently and fewer people across the nation are competing with them for Internet space.

"Really, waiting and checking back" is the best option, Dowd told reporters on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. "There are steps being taken to improve performance, and the speed of the applications process."

At least until next year, Idaho's exchange will automatically re-direct the state's prospective exchange enrollees to the federal healthcare.gov website.

There, people are expected to enter personal and financial data, in order to qualify for federal income-based subsidies designed to make coverage more affordable, a key part of President Barack Obama's plan to extend health care to millions of uninsured Americans.

Dowd said she's heard through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that only about 1,000 people nationwide have been able to complete applications on the first day. But she called the process "a marathon, not a sprint," adding that open enrollment in Idaho and elsewhere continues through March 31.

People who buy a plan by Dec. 15 will be guaranteed coverage starting Jan. 1.

While Dowd said insurance agents and brokers across Idaho were taking applications and selling the 146 health and dental policies offered by seven insurance carriers, she wasn't certain just how many state residents had signed up for coverage.

She won't have details until at least November, at the earliest.

"It will likely be at least several weeks, until we will start to have any preliminary numbers," she said.

Despite the paucity of such benchmarks, however, Dowd characterized the opening day of Idaho's exchange as a success, saying the 10-employee call center in Boise had received around 420 phone calls from people who were interested in the exchange and how they could use it to buy insurance.

Additionally, by midday, about 8,000 separate people had visited the Idaho exchange's web site, something Dowd believes is a sign of the public's burgeoning interest.

Alberto Gonzalez, the Idaho exchange's operations project manager, also remained upbeat, saying the Idaho's call center workers didn't seem to be getting too much negative feedback from frustrated users.

"There weren't a lot of complaints, other than people wanting to get through the few screens being slowed down by the federal platform," he said.