Sebelius says problematic Health Insurance Marketplace website will be glitch-free soon

10/08/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: healthcare, Obamacare, Affordable Care Act, Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services, Health Insurance Marketplace


U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, says the Health Insurance Marketplace should be fixed "soon."

photo by Janelle Irwin

The website where consumers can enroll in federally subsidized health plans has been plagued by glitches since the Health Insurance Marketplace opened last week. During a panel discussion at the USF Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said the problems should be worked out soon.

“We want to take the site down only at the times when it’s the least traffic. So, it’s been at night. We’ve made a lot of progress. Call times, or wait times, are significantly reduced. We’ve identified the glitches. We’ve added hardware. We’re recoding software and I can tell you, today is better than yesterday and we’re hoping in the very near future to have a seamless process. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act lauded the opening of the healthcare exchanges as a way to offer low-cost health plans to people who are either uninsured or under-insured. Policies for individuals can be obtained for less than $100 in some cases. But when the enrollment period opened on October 1st, consumers were met with a series of errors. Officials within the Department of Health and Human Services initially blamed an unexpected surge of traffic, but later admitted there were flaws with the website’s construction. But Sebelius couldn’t say exactly when the problems would be fixed.

“The good news is this. This is a 26-week open enrollment period – 6 months – from October 1 to March 31st, 26-weeks. The prices don’t change. They’re locked in. We won’t run out of product if you don’t get in day one. The product will still be on the shelf in 5 months. The earliest any benefits start is January 1st. So, signing up by December 15th qualifies you for the earliest possible time you can get coverage.”

Opponents of the president’s signature healthcare law have used the website’s technical issues as a talking point for their argument that Obamacare should be sidelined for one year as part of a budget deal to end the government shutdown wreaking havoc on federally funded programs nationwide. But workers hired to help consumers shop for insurance say people are still getting enrolled despite some hiccups. Michelle Ray is the lead navigator for the USF group covering 64 of the state’s 67 counties.

“The first week of enrollment, we enrolled roughly 15 consumers in the marketplace and we have well over 100 appointments currently scheduled.”

When pressed about why that number was so low, Ray explained those numbers were for just one office. Data about how many people have been enrolled statewide or nationally isn’t available. The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sebelius, wouldn’t comment on whether or not enrollment numbers may have been stifled by the clogged website. Instead she stuck to plugging the latest and final roll out of the Affordable Care Act.

“About 23% of Floridians have no health coverage at all and that takes a big toll on the state and on the economy. So, across the state there are about 3.5 million eligible Floridians – 467,000 here in the Tampa area.”

Sebelius also debunked claims by critics that the Health Insurance Exchanges will make people shop for new policies.

“this is really for the 15% of folks – it’s 23% here in Florida – who either have no insurance at all or who don’t have affordable coverage in their workplace. So, something is offered, but it’s just way out of reach.”

Sebelius was joined by two USF students who have struggled with finding affordable health insurance. Savanah Goodland is a 23-year-old part time student and full time waitress. Under the Affordable Care Act she is eligible to remain on her parents’ insurance until she’s 26, but Goodland said her mother is also uninsured and her father can’t afford to add her to his policy.

“Waitressing is a job that has no benefits. There’s no benefits in waitressing. When I get sick or hurt like I did earlier this year – I fell down the stairs trying to move, again I’m clumsy. I broke my ankle. I had to rely on Google, YouTube and luck to get better and I had to just walk on it while I was waitressing. It was a really uncomfortable few weeks because waitressing on a broken ankle is definitely not fun.”

Florida is one of several states that have not accepted federal funding to expand Medicaid. The $51 billion left on the table would have funded health coverage for more than 1 million Floridians. Many of those individuals are now in the midst of a dilemma where they don’t qualify for Medicaid, but they also don’t qualify for tax credits in the insurance marketplace. Sebelius blasted the state’s inaction arguing that the decision could cost Florida big in the long run.

“Independent studies have indicated that an additional $90 billion in just economic development would be spurred by that investment – additional hires at hospitals, resources that could be redirected from Florida tax payers into economic development or education or infrastructure projects that are currently being spent trying to pay for uncompensated care.”

Consumers can enroll in policies at A Tampa Bay area coalition is also available to answer questions about where to find help obtaining insurance. That number is 813-995-1066.

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