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'Obamacare' website problems evident in state
Oct 22, 2013 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press
Wyoming is among 36 states that opted to have the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services run its exchange.
Only a handful of Wyoming residents have managed to enroll so far for health care coverage through the troubled federal insurance exchange network that kicked off three weeks ago.
WINHealth and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming are the only two insurance companies offering Wyoming coverage through the new federal health care exchange. Company representatives said Monday that only about 30 people total have signed up with both companies.
There is still more than two months for residents to sign up. Part of the website malfunction is attributed to a huge, simultaneous response from consumers when the sight went live.
Wyoming is among 36 states that opted to have the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services run its health insurance exchange, which essentially offers the public an Internet site to shop for approved insurance plans. Since opening early this month, the national site has been beset with problems, including not allowing people to register.
President Barack Obama addressed the nation Monday to discuss national problems with the site. "The website that's supposed to make it easy to apply for and purchase the insurance is not working the way it should for everybody," he said.
Obama said he wouldn't try to sugarcoat problems with the Internet site but says his administration is dedicated to getting it fixed.
Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Tom Hirsig said Monday that he's personally been unable to register on the federal government's Wyoming site despite trying every day.
Federal figures show Wyoming citizens will pay some of the highest premiums in the nation under the Affordable Care Act. The national average cost for a family of four making $50,000 a year would be $774 a month for health insurance coverage under a "silver" plan. In Wyoming, that rate would be $1,237, but tax credits for eligible insurance shoppers could bring the cost down.
Hirsig and other officials have said Wyoming has higher health care costs because of its sparse population. It's the least-populated state with only about 560,000 residents.
Stephen K. Goldstone, president and CEO of WINhealth, a Cheyenne-based health maintenance organization, said Monday that about two dozen people have enrolled with his company through the federal site so far.
"I know there's a large number in the pipeline that haven't been able to get all the way through the process," Goldstone said. "I know that based on people that we've actually worked with, so I have to assume that many more are trying to get in."
Registration is open now for purchasing insurance plans that will go into effect in January. Under the Affordable Care Act, people who don't have health insurance coverage by early next year could face a fine.
"We need to get it fixed," Goldstone said of the site. "While technically there's no sense of urgency because coverage isn't in effect until January, I sense building frustration on behalf of people who are trying to sign up. And I'm afraid if we don't get it fixed, we might lose them."
Goldstone said the federal government undertook an immensely complicated task when it set about creating the health care exchanges. He said the site has to tie into other federal databases including tax information, Homeland Security records, Medicaid as well as the insurance company plans.
Wendy Curran with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming said Monday that her company has registered fewer than five people through the site.
"We expected a higher volume," Curran said.
Curran said some people are contacting the company interested in buying insurance coverage directly, without federal subsidies.
Hirsig said he has no idea how long it will take the federal government to fix the site.
"The bad thing is there are a lot of people, especially the ones who haven't had health insurance because of medical conditions, who are looking forward to being able to get something," Hirsig said. "They still can, probably, from the companies. Like if they go to Blue Cross or Win Health, they can buy one. But they can't get a subsidy until the exchange is functional."