Thursday, November 3, 2016

First day of open enrollment on federal health-insurance exchange got off to a rough start for some Kentuckians

The first day of open enrollment to sign up for health insurance on the federal health exchange, Nov. 1, got off to a rough start for some Kentuckians.

Sharon Bush, an application assister, told Lisa Gillespie of Louisville's WFPL that she had spent half an hour helping her 60-year-old client sign up for an e-mail account, which is required on if you don't want to call the federal help center to sign up. Then they spent another 45 minutes waiting because the website was down, before finally giving up and rescheduling for the following week.

“In southeastern Kentucky, there are a lot of people who don’t have and/or use technology,” Bush said, noting that it took longer to sign up for the e-mail account than she realized it would.

Bush works at Grace Community Health Center in Manchester. She’s a former Kynector, a person who helped people sign up for health care on Kynect, the state-based exchange, which has been dismantled. She is now trained an application assister for the federal exchange,

Susie McConkey, vice president of business development for agent services at AgentLink, a company that acts as a go-between for insurance brokers and clients, told Gillespie that she had run into similar problems in Louisville. The agency will likely enroll 10,000 people before open enrollment ends Jan. 31, 2017, Gillespie reports.

More than 100,000 Kentuckians had signed up for health insurance on Kynect and must now re-enroll on because none of the enrollment information from Kynect was transferred.

McConkey said she was concerned some brokers might become frustrated and give up using the site.

“We anticipate, even though this is day one, some people are going to try and give up,” she said. “And the more difficulties, if the is down more, we need to be in a position to help them.”

Another challenge is that brokers and application assisters can no longer get into the system to enroll their clients as they could on Kynect. Instead, consumers have to do it themselves, or brokers can use purchased software that interfaces with that allows them to enroll people -- but the software is expensive, Gillespie reports.

McConkey also told Gillespie that limited doctor networks in insurance plans are also a big issue for people trying to enroll.

Residents in 59 of the state's 120 counties will have only one health insurance option this year, Anthem Health Plans of Kentucky. And many of its plans are health maintenance organization plans, which only pay for doctors in the network, Gillespie reports.

“The big issue is that you’re not covered outside the network," McConkey said. “In a PPO [preferred provider organization], you can go outside the network and it might cost more. The only thing offered in Jefferson County is an HMO,” or health maintenance organization, which generally doesn't pay for care outside its network of providers.

Open enrollment runs through through Jan. 31. For coverage starting Jan. 1, 2017, consumers must sign up by Dec. 15, 2016.

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