Colorado's new health insurance-buying system causes some frustrations

October 22, 2013 Updated: October 22, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Three weeks after Connect for Heath Colorado opened for business, observers and health care guides say Colorado's new health insurance website isn't a problem.

But issues with an insurance subsidy application and delays in awarding certification to health care brokers and guides have complicated the sign-up process for shoppers grappling with a newly-mandated health insurance system.

The performance by Colorado's exchange follows a national trend that has seen state marketplaces outperform, the federal government's troubled exchange established under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Congressional hearings are expected this week on the federal website amid a rash of glitches.

"Colorado has the benefit from having set up its own marketplace and it's working well," said Adam Fox of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization. "The system isn't working perfectly yet by any means. But I think there are a lot of people who are getting through the system and getting enrolled."

Officials temporarily suspended the ability for people to create accounts on Oct. 1 when a rush of shoppers briefly overwhelmed the system. During the rest of its first week, the website's logged 162,941 unique visitors, 18,174 accounts created and shoppers purchased 226 plans.

No updated figures have been announced, though a swell of new enrollees are needed to keep pace with other state exchanges.

In Washington, 4,529 people enrolled in health insurance plans as of Monday, and more than 2,300 people in Maryland enrolled plans offered in the state's exchange through Friday.

And as more Coloradans wade deeper into the state's insurance applications, some have complained that they can't apply for federal subsidies online.

Marketplace officials delayed unveiling the online subsidy function until early November.

"We did not feel that it had been rigorously tested enough for deployment," said Lindy Hinman, the exchange's chief operating officer.

Until that's fixed, shoppers must finish the process by calling one of the marketplace's customer service centers, the largest of which is in Colorado Springs.

In addition, there have been complaints from insurance agents whose licences have yet to be cleared - an issue that marketplace officals have been "working as fast as we can" to address, Hinman said.

Also, health care guides at Peak Vista Community Health Centers and Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments have yet to receive their state certification, despite having finished their training.

Brokers and agents are able to sell plans, while guides are supposed to offer unbiased, objective advice on navigating the marketplace.

The lack of certification means that the guides can't personally help fill out forms for shoppers, though they can help individual shoppers fill out the forms themselves, said Isabel Guevara, Peak Vista's enrollment services trainer.

"We were hoping that on day one, it would go live, we would all be certified and ready to go," Guevara said. "But it hasn't happened yet. So I think we've kind of been able to work around it and make it work. We're not having to turn people away."

Connect for Health Colorado couldn't be reached late Tuesday for comment on the certification of guides.

More than 1,000 people have visited Peak Vista's enrollment center since Oct. 1, with about about 90-percent of those people seeking expanded Medicaid coverage, Guevara said.

The biggest challenge isn't dealing with the website - which has been running "really well," she said.

Rather, it's simply educating people on health care lingo and the basics of how insurance works.

"It's a lot for a person to take in, especially if you've never had to deal with insurance before," Guevara said. "It's new. People have never had to have insurance before."


Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @jakobrodgers

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