Brokers are skeptical about how any of the 700,000 health insurance applications that the government says it’s received so far are from the 36 federally-run exchange states. However, a spokeswoman from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Friday that “half” of that number come from the federal exchange states.
“I would assume that most of those applications were done on state exchanges,” says Anne Petry, an insurance broker in Forsyth, Ill., a state relying on the feds. “I’ve heard they’re running better.” The independent adviser at Jaggi Insurance and Investments says she waited until this week to even attempt enrolling clients on Healthcare.gov, and “all appointments have lasted over two hours and all have ended unsuccessfully.”
“Something tells me that due to Medicaid expansion in many states that there will be a lot of those applications that go to Medicaid enrollment instead of enrollment in a marketplace product with an insurance company,” says Kelly Fristoe, an independent broker at Financial Partners in Wichita Falls, Texas, and president of Texas Association of Health Underwriters. Julie Bataille of CMS told reporters that the 700,000 refers to the people who received a subsidy determination or were sent to Medicaid, but did not elaborate further.
Meanwhile, the state-run exchange enrollment numbers have been trickling out. Washington, for example, said this week that its marketplace had completed 35,538 enrollments, and of those, more than 31,000 were routed to Medicaid, according to numbers obtained by EBA from Washington Association of Health Underwriters’ President Al Pierce.
In the state with the biggest uninsured population, Fristoe is forging ahead with enrollments without Healthcare.gov after a frustrating few weeks trying to access the site. Instead, he’s circumventing the government to continue his business: “I am using my producer portal with the respective insurance companies to do quoting and enrolling. Most of the people that I’m enrolling are subsidy-ineligible. There have been a few that are subsidy-eligible, but they opted to go ahead and buy a plan and pay full price for it and will … claim their subsidy when they file their income tax return in April 2015.”
Because of his experience, he doubts many, if any at all, of the 700,000 applications are from Texas.
“It’s like clockwork, as soon as we get to the end and hit submit on the app for the subsidy determination the button freezes and doesn’t take,” says Petry of her Illinois experience. “This is on top of the other little glitches and system quirks you have while filling it out along the way.” She says she’s tried to call help lines and use live chats, but “I’ve been hung up on so many times, I’ve lost count.”
She also says the window shopping feature that became available is not very helpful. She’s only seeing rate forecasts for two age groups: under 50 years old and over 50 years old, which she calls a misleading way to present health premiums for experienced health insurance professionals.
“The whole system appears like it wants to keep brokers out, which it is probably doing successfully,” Petry says.
‘By the end of November’
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Zients, President Barack Obama’s appointee at the beginning of the week to come in fresh to the website problems and provide solutions, told reporters Friday that, “by the end of November, HealthCare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users.”
He emphasized numerous times that the website “is fixable” and disclosed that Quality Software Services Inc., owned by United Health Group, is being brought in as a general contractor to prioritize and oversee the fixes.
For the overly frustrated consumer, CMS’s Bataille says the agency plans to communicate directly to consumers who have had a hard time logging on, once the website is working more smoothly to “welcome them back.”
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