Few Successfully Enroll in Mo. Exchange

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COLUMBIA - Missouri's Health Exchange website is preventing buyers from signing up for health insurance. Since the marketplace opened October 1st, it's continually crashed and has not been able to handle traffic.

Missouri's exchange is operated by the federal government so state government cannot provide much help. A spokesperson for the Missouri Hospital Association says it's one reason Missouri's exchange is not working.

"Other states that have chosen to do their own exchanges generally are easier to sign up on," Dave Dillon said. "Missouri is probably more difficult through that federal exchange because we made a decision not to create an exchange and we specifically prohibited the state from getting involved in that process so other states are probably seeing a little less pain when it comes to getting enrolled."

An insurance broker in Columbia says he's telling his clients to wait to sign up.

"Until they get the website up and running, we can't do anything about it. It's like a company that isn't ready to go into business, the sales force can't do anything until they go into business or they are up and running," Collin McCarty said.

McCarty said security risks are another reason he's not enrolling his clients yet. The Associated Press released details of a government memo that contained concerns about a "high security risk" for the health insurance website, at the end of October.

People running into problems with the website can turn to navigators for help. Navigators and insurance counselors are certified individuals hired to provide assistance to those looking and signing up for insurance. One navigator tells KOMU she's received calls from people being unable to sign up online.

But Robin Corderman runs in to many of the same problems people have at home. Error messages such as, "your account is temporarily unavailable" or "the system is unavailable" pop up.

"I think part of the problem with navigators is they are there to build that information for people and for groups and when the site isn't there to complete the transaction it becomes problematic for them because they have to use the same resources as an individual would and walk them through it," Dillon said.

"What we are doing is at this point, we call the 800 number and it takes about 20 or 30 minutes," Corderman said.

Three or four weeks after the phone call, the customer will be notified that their application is finished. Then, you can enroll in a plan. Corderman says Primaris has assisted over 700 Missourians since October.

"The website is working much smoother. Still glitches, but it improves every week and we've had several successful enrollments." Corderman said.

Marilyn Tavenner, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator, apologized for the website's glitches in a U.S. House hearing on October 29th and said it will be fixed.

According to an article by the Associated Press, officials say the website should be able to handle the year-end flood of customers.

Despite the website's glitches, Dillon says it is important to start looking at options now.

"We are still encouraging people to do what they can to investigate what resources are available to them, what policies they might be eligible for," Dillon said.

Some resources are the Kaiser Foundation, Enroll Missouri and Cover Missouri. All of the sites will help estimate your plan and give you information, but they do not get you signed up.

To sign up, a navigator, insurance company, insurance broker or hospital can help fill out an application. You can also print a paper application from healthcare.gov and mail it or call 1-800-318-2596.

"I think it's better to do something to get as far as you can to get that application in the pipeline so in a few weeks you might know your tax credits." Corderman said. "If you can research the plans that you want, you can really move forward once you get the eligibility letter."

According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 751 Missourians signed up for insurance plans through the marketplace in October.

The deadline to enroll for an insurance plan that begins January 1st is December 23rd. However, enrollment is open until March 31st. After then, you will face fines from the Internal Revenue Service.