A week later, delays still plague insurance exchange

Georgia woman uses patience (and a predawn logon) to acquire plan

Health Insurance Marketplace

Visit HealthCare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 to find out more about the marketplace.

Lisa Ryan suffers from chronic pain and often finds herself up at all hours, so 5 o’clock Sunday morning seemed as good a time as any to try – yet again – to log onto HealthCare.gov.

Ryan had tried for days to enroll in the new Health Insurance Marketplace, only to be stymied by the software glitches and overwhelming traffic that have plagued the system since its Oct. 1 launch. The Decatur resident finally managed to create an account Sunday morning and – another six very frustrating hours later – bought a health plan through the website.

“I am totally exhausted but also totally relieved,” Ryan said.

The government on Tuesday would not say how many people have successfully enrolled in insurance plans so far on the Georgia exchange or nationwide. Insurers offering plans through the site also declined to discuss how many customers have signed up for coverage.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reached out to more than a dozen Georgia consumer advocates and health care providers in recent days but, as of Tuesday, only one had heard of someone, Ryan, who successfully purchased insurance through the exchange. That, of course, doesn’t mean others haven’t successfully acquired coverage in the state.

Health officials say software changes are being made and additional server capacity is being added to help handle larger numbers of visitors to the site. Meanwhile, people are able to enroll by phone.

“We continue to increase access to HealthCare.gov in light of strong demand,” said Fabien Levy, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Wait times have been significantly reduced and more people are logging on and applying. But we won’t stop until the doors to HealthCare.gov are wide open.”

More than 10 million people have visited the HealthCare.gov site in the past week.

The exchange is a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act aimed at helping people who don’t get health insurance through their jobs. Georgia joined 33 other states in choosing not to create its own exchange, leaving the federal government to do it instead. (People may also enroll by phone.)

Nearly 900,000 Georgians are expected to shop on the exchange. The site enables consumers — if they can log on — to compare prices and benefits of health plans offered by up to five private insurance companies. People can also figure out whether they qualify for federal tax credits to help make the coverage more affordable.

Consumer advocates say they’re confident Georgians will sign up for coverage despite the website’s glitches. They also note that consumers have plenty of time to sign up during open enrollment, which runs through March 31.

Health plans bought through the exchange by Dec. 15 will take effect Jan. 1.

It’s not surprising that the exchange didn’t work seamlessly right away, especially considering the flood of people who tried to log on, said Bill Rencher, who heads the health access program at Georgia Watch, a consumer group. Rencher said he believes consumers won’t be deterred by the website’s problems or opposition to the health care law voiced by Gov. Nathan Deal and Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens.

“I don’t believe that the average Georgia family is concerned so much about ideology and politics as they are about providing for their families,” he added. “And so far, the prices and subsidies we have seen lead me to believe that many Georgians will find very affordable coverage in the marketplace for themselves and their families.”

While the federal sites have floundered, some states that built their own exchanges seemed to enjoy greater success in the first week.

Kentucky officials reported Monday that about 7,000 individuals and families have enrolled in health insurance through the state’s exchange site, Kynect. Nearly 15,000 consumers completed applications. And roughly 155,000 Kentuckians used the site to figure out whether they qualified for federal tax credits, other discounts or government programs like Medicaid.

Meantime, federal health officials say they won’t provide information on how many people have successfully enrolled through the federally run exchange sites until sometime next month.

Clint Murphy, a Savannah real estate agent, said Monday he’s tried unsuccessfully at least 20 times to log onto the exchange site but isn’t upset or deterred by it. Murphy said insurance companies have turned him down for coverage at least five times because of pre-existing conditions and has been uninsured now for about two years.

People have a long time to sign up, although it may not seem that way because of what politicians are saying and what’s in the news, he said.

“This wasn’t like sign up in the first week or you’re not going to get insurance,” he said. “Any time you have millions of people logging on to one website, this is going to happen.”