Navigator says website woes shows demand for insurance

Nathan Baker • Oct 27, 2013 at 9:47 PM

Although capacity and programming problems have plagued the rollout of the federal government’s online health insurance marketplace, local navigator Aubrey Everhart said the new health insurance law shows promise.

Nearly a month since the federal marketplace website, healthcare.gov, went live, users are still having problems purchasing the plans offered in their areas and insurance companies are questioning the validity of the data they’re receiving from the site.

“I know that obviously the website is still having issues,” Everhart said Friday. “We’ve found a few browsers are more successful than others when trying to purchase insurance. Google Chrome’s incognito window and Firefox are working relatively well.”

Everhart and a handful of her staff at the Appalachian Mountain Project Access group are certified as health insurance marketplace navigators, and have been assisting local residents with their questions on the new regulations included in the health care reform law these past few weeks.

With the disappointing debut and the resulting public outrage and congressional hearings, Everhart said she wished more testing had been done before the website went live.

“It’s unfortunate,” she said. “We’re looking a six-month time limit, and these problems are holding some things up. They should have beta tested the site before this happened.”

But Everhart said the bottleneck on healthcare.gov demonstrates the need in the country for affordable health care.

“We have enough intelligent people in the country that I know can fix it,” she said. “Unfortunately we have to be learning about the problems at the same time as enrollment. I know it’s frustrating for people trying to enroll, but just because there are so many people trying to access the website, it speaks to the interest in the country.”

The aim of the Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as Obamacare, is to provide insurance to 50 million uninsured Americans through easier to access insurance plans on the marketplace and expanded enrollment in government-run health care plans.

When the constitutionality of the act was challenged last year, supporters won a partial victory when the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate. A crucial provision, the expansion of Medicaid in the states, was made optional.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam continues to fight for his own expansion plan over the one accepted by 23 states and the District of Columbia, which Everhart said has so far left some of the state’s poorest residents without affordable health care.

“There are people, mostly the working poor, who can’t afford to pay for the health insurance premiums on the marketplace, and right now, they don’t qualify for (Tennessee’s Medicaid program) TennCare,” she said. “There are only a few categories of people who qualify for TennCare, and many adults under 65 don’t qualify. In Tennessee, there are about 162,000 people who are going to be in that coverage gap, who would be insured if the state expanded its Medicaid program.”

Everhart said those who can’t afford the premiums will likely qualify for waivers, so they won’t have to pay penalties for not having insurance. But their situation goes against the purpose of the Affordable Care Act, which was providing affordable care for millions of Americans.

With the delays in the startup of the online marketplace, Everhart said lawmakers should consider extending the period for open enrollment in the offered plans.

“I personally think it’s a consideration that they might want to look at,” she said. “It might be helpful, because we’re having some lag time, and next week we’ll be at the end of October. Open enrollment goes until the end of March, so there’s still enough time, but there have been some delays.”

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