Officials: revamped, faster

This story was done in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Thousands of Georgians are expected to shop for health insurance coverage on starting next month when its second open enrollment period kicks off.

But the thought of shopping on the site – a key part of the Affordable Care Act -- may make some consumers who bought plans through it last year cringe. The site’s disastrous launch last fall was plagued by technical troubles that included nearly daily website crashes and glitches that prevented people from completing applications.

Federal health officials said this week, however, that has been revamped and will be faster and easier to use with a shorter application form and new navigation tools – though not completely free of glitches. The site has also undergone far more testing than last year and has already enrolled 20,000 people so far, officials said in a briefing with reporters on Wednesday.

Open enrollment runs from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15.

More than 7 million Americans – including 316,000 Georgians – bought health insurance through in its first year of operation.

Through the site, consumers can shop for dozens of health plan options offered by private insurance companies, such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Humana and Cigna. Nine insurers plan to offer plans in Georgia, up from just five last year. users can also learn if they qualify for federal tax credits to lower premiums or for government insurance.

The updated website will work more smoothly and will be a big step forward in helping reach new potential consumers with the information they need, said Mayra Alvarez, an official with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Alvarez spoke at a gathering of hundreds of government workers from across the country at the National Academy for State Health Policy’s annual conference held in Atlanta this week.

“There is information coming at people from every angle,” she said. “There’s a lot of fluff that needs to get weeded through.”