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Oct. 9, 2013
TOPEKA A key player in efforts to steer uninsured and underinsured Kansans toward the new health insurance marketplace says she’s been told that most of the system’s troubles should be corrected yet this week.
“The website is still having problems. But we’ve been told that things should significantly improve within the next 48 hours,” said Cathy Harding, chief executive with the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved.
Officials at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ regional office in Kansas City, Mo. provided the assurances to Harding during a conversation on Tuesday.
The marketplace's website, heathcare.gov — which serves as the enrollment portal in Kansas and 24 other states that declined to establish their own — crashed shortly after its Oct. 1 launching and has been largely inoperable ever since.
“Basically, the enrollment piece of the system was built, thinking it would need to able to handle 50,000 people being on the site at any one time,” Harding said. “But when it went up, some 250,000 people were trying to enroll and the system was overwhelmed.”
No one in Kansas, she said, has been able to enroll electronically. "There have been some who've enrolled using the paper applications, which are available," Harding said.
Harding is leading a consortium of state organizations that recently was awarded a $525,000 grant for coordinating a statewide effort to help people “navigate” the marketplace and the online enrollment process.
“Right now, we have between 75 and 80 who’ve been through the navigator training and who are certified,” she said. Nearly 135 more are in various stages of completing the training.
Harding said she and the consortium’s navigators are telling would-be enrollees to be patient.
“I think it’s pretty clear that there’s a lot of anxiety over how this is going to affect people personally,” she said. “That’s certainly understandable, but, really, they have until the middle of December to actually enroll. If someone were to enroll tomorrow or if they enrolled on Dec. 15, either way, the coverage would start Jan. 1. So there’s still time.”
After Dec. 15, she said, people who enroll on or before the 15th of January, February, or March, will see their coverage begin on the first of the next month. Open enrollment ends Mar. 31.
Coverage for someone who enrolls between March 16 and March 31 will begin May 1.
The consortium’s members are:
Harding said would-be enrollees also have the option of reviewing the health plans available to them and estimating their premium costs for so-called "Silver" plans via InsureKS.org, developed by the Kansas Insurance Department.
“You can punch in your numbers and get an estimate on what your premiums are likely to be,” she said. “But you won’t be able to actually enroll.”
Estimates for all plans are available via a report from the Kansas Health Institute. (KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the institute.)
Sayre Shuck, a navigator at the First Care Clinic in Hays said she’s had trouble generating much local interest in the marketplace. “I don’t know why that is,” she said. “The website not working hasn’t helped matters. I’ve tried to get on and set up an account and all I get is a white screen.”
Shuck said she’s scheduled her first enrollment consultation for Oct. 21. “I just think it makes sense to give the system time to adjust,” she said.
In the meantime, Shuck said, she’s been conferring with patients who likely will be eligible for subsidies or tax credits through the marketplace.
Deborah Chambers is the navigator grant coordinator in Wichita. There, interest has been intense.
“On Monday, we did a call-in thing with KSN Channel 3 from 4 to 7 p.m. — they ran a ticket-tape across the bottom of the screen that said people could call in with questions,” she said. “We had six phone lines with six navigators, and it was non-stop. Every time one of them would finish and hang up, the phone would ring.
“People were calling the station, saying the phones weren’t working because they couldn’t get through,” Chambers said. “I think it shows just how much pent up demand there is out there.”
Harding provided KHI News Service with a list of organizations with one or more navigator on staff (below).
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