Officials say glitches slowing down insurance process
By KALEY CONNER
Online health insurance exchanges across the nation went live at midnight Tuesday, but local officials are urging those needing to purchase health insurance to wait, citing technical glitches with the federal website.
The exchanges, part of ongoing reform resulting from the federal health care overhaul, are essentially online marketplaces where citizens can compare and purchase health insurance policies. Some families will qualify for subsidies or tax credits to reduce the cost of coverage.
"We have been cautioning people to wait a while to try to get on the exchange," Linda Sheppard, health policy director for the Kansas Insurance Department, said in a statement. "Glitches like the ones that are happening, with such a large rollout of technology, shouldn't be seen as unusual, even without a partial government shutdown.
"People wanting to get on the exchange will have to exercise some patience."
When trying to access the website, www.healthcare.gov, many experienced a delay and received a message about a high volume of visitors on the page. Kansans will purchase their policies through the federal website, as state officials declined to launch a state-operated exchange.
In Hays, certified navigator Sayre Shuck set out trying to educate residents about the new marketplace and other changes associated with the sweeping legislation passed by Congress in 2010.
Certified navigators have completed specialized training to help educate citizens about the health care changes and assist them in selecting a health care policy if they lack coverage. Beginning Jan. 1, most citizens will be required to have health insurance coverage or pay a penalty.
Shuck is employed at First Care Clinic. Northwest Kansas Area Agency on Aging in Hays also is in the process of implementing a navigator program.
Shuck hosted a public information session Tuesday at Hays Public Library. Overall, the launch day had been relatively quiet for her, she said Tuesday afternoon.
"I've had only one or two calls," Shuck said. "It kind of makes me wonder how many people are even aware of what's happening."
Hays resident Nathan Haas took advantage of Tuesday's event to have his questions answered. He was concerned the changes might affect the health benefits he receives through Medicare and supplemental insurance.
He was relieved, he said, when Shuck assured him his coverage would remain the same. He is facing cataract surgery in the future.
"I'm delighted to hear that," he said. "That way I don't have to rush into it."
Haas said it has been "very confusing" to process all of the information about the new health policies and to separate fact from fiction.
As a navigator, Shuck said she also is encouraging residents to wait a week or so before purchasing insurance through the exchange. Open enrollment will continue through March 31, and coverage will be effective Jan. 1 as long as a policy is purchased before Dec. 15.
"What I'm kind of looking towards doing is trying to get people information about it first and not necessarily start signing people up tomorrow," she said. "That gives it a little time to get the glitches out and give people the information to decide what they want to do."
In the meantime, she wants to continue public education efforts to inform residents about upcoming changes. Residents will not be denied insurance due to pre-existing conditions, which means some could be able to purchase health insurance for the first time. Those individuals, she said, will have a lot to learn.
"We kind of help them through the application process and help them to make the best decision," Shuck said. "We are completely unbiased. I don't have any affiliations with any of the insurance companies."
Navigators also can assist small business employers who might need to offer coverage for their staff.
Shuck is planning another education session from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday in the basement conference room at First Care Clinic, 105 W. 13th. Those wanting more information about the exchange also can call her at (785) 621-4990 to arrange an appointment.