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Enrollment via Kansas health insurance marketplace creeping along

Updated: 2013-10-30T04:00:04Z

By KELSEY RYAN

The Wichita Eagle

More than three weeks into the online health insurance marketplace, enrollment in Kansas is going slowly.

Although people can sign up on their own, local navigators – those who have been specifically trained to help people enroll in the marketplace – say they still haven’t actually had anyone enroll through them.

But they said they are seeing progress with HealthCare.gov, which has been riddled with problems since open enrollment began Oct. 1.

“It’s going much better than before,” said Juven Nava, GraceMed outreach coordinator and navigator. “We haven’t enrolled anyone yet but have been able to get people fully applied and seeing the actual plans and rates.”

This week, Nava said they’ve gotten three people through the application process and spoken to about 60 on the phone about the applications and other questions.

Nick Clausen, Center for Health and Wellness’s lead navigator, said they’ve also gotten a handful of people through the online application, but still not enrolled in coverage.

“They’re taking time to pick what will work for them,” he said. “Most are seeing 36 plans and want to look at what’s best before they enroll. … It’s still a hit and miss, but there’s more and more getting through.”

Clausen said they had more people in the first couple of weeks but that he thinks national publicity over the website’s issues are causing a lot of people to wait.

“We’re stressing to a lot of people that they still have until Dec. 15 to get in and start looking at plans that start Jan. 1,” he said.

Gina Pierce, navigator for Hunter Health Clinic, said the clinic is in the same boat.

“We’re able to see the plans now, which is a little farther than two weeks ago,” she said. “We can submit applications but not enroll.”

“There has been a steady flow of people interested. … We’re still in the education phase, which is really all we can do, and we’re getting a lot of questions on opting out, what the plans are, if they qualify for the tax credit. We’re still able to answer those questions.”

The Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved is working to put together a system for navigators across the state to better track the number of people they’ve helped apply and enroll, said Debbie Chambers, navigator project coordinator for the Wichita area.

Chambers said she still hasn’t heard of anyone enrolling for coverage through the navigators.

The Kansas Insurance Department has been told by the insurance companies offering plans on the marketplace that there have been transactions, but the companies aren’t releasing numbers because they don’t want competitors to know, said Linda Sheppard, special counsel and director of health care policy and analysis for the department.

Sheppard said the federal government has told them not to expect any additional figures until at least mid-November.

“We’re totally at their mercy at this point since they’re running the show,” she said.

A representative from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas said it will likely release some figures by the end of January 2014.

Kansas had the opportunity to run its own marketplace, but Gov. Sam Brownback returned the millions in federal funds that would have enabled the state to do that. So Kansas defaulted to the federally run marketplace with about 35 other states.

The consultant who was planning to help develop Kansas’ marketplace, Gary Schneider, helped create the one in Colorado, which seems to be going more smoothly, Sheppard said.

“Colorado, California, Washington and other states did go ahead and they are getting people enrolled. It’s not been perfect, there have been glitches, but for the most part they are doing much better and not having the same issues that we’re dealing with on the federal marketplace,” Sheppard said.

The insurance department has added new features to its website, InsureKS.org, in light of the issues with the federal website, Sheppard said. The site allows people to view plans and pricing based on age and location, and see a tax credit calculator, she said, but doesn’t allow people to enroll.

National figures

Nationwide, nearly 700,000 people have submitted an application for enrollment online, said Julie Bataille, director of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services communications, said in a media conference call Thursday afternoon. Bataille did not release how many of those people were in the 36 states with the federally facilitated marketplaces and those in the state-run marketplaces.

Bataille admitted the system wasn’t tested enough before Oct. 1, partially because of the compressed time frame. She refused to answer reporters’ questions about whether Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius knew about issues with the website before Oct. 1.

The government says it is now undergoing a “tech surge” on the site and is bringing on outside developers to help fix problems, but details about who is working on the issues and what exactly is being done are unclear.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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