ALBANY — Two weeks into enrollment for the health insurance exchange, the number of Georgians who have signed up for the new coverage remains a mystery.
Technical problems have continued to block and frustrate consumers trying to enroll online on healthcare.gov. That’s the government portal, created by the Affordable Care Act, that offers coverage for people who are uninsured or have individual health policies.
It took until Wednesday, in fact, before community health centers in Georgia were finally able to get their first consumer signed up for coverage via the website.
The successful online enrollment, at a health center in Warrenton, took two hours, Cathy Bowden, information management coordinator for the Georgia Association for Primary Health Care, told GHN on Thursday.
The community health centers have 14 people licensed as navigators across the state, with another 17 hoping to gain licensure soon.
Bowden reports some progress toward enrollment. “We’re seeing more success with registering consumers’’ on healthcare.gov, Bowden said. “Before, we weren’t able to register them.”
And the community health centers have helped some people gain access to paper applications, she added.
The Obama administration has not given any enrollment figures in the exchanges that the federal government is running in 36 states, including Georgia.
Several states that are running their own insurance exchanges, meanwhile, have shown generally better functionality. They are also releasing numbers on enrollees. Minnesota’s state-run health insurance exchange, for example, reported Wednesday that 5,569 households had completed applications for coverage in the first two weeks of operation, representing 11,684 people.
The number of navigators licensed in Georgia to help people enroll has increased to 38, according to the state insurance department.
One of the navigators, Amanda Ptashkin of the consumer group Georgians for a Healthy Future, said Thursday that interest has remained high on the opportunity to gain new health insurance coverage.
Bowden added that phones in the health centers “are ringing off the hook.’’
And Dante McKay of Enroll America said people who have been uninsured or underinsured for years have shown great interest in enrolling despite the technical problems, which made headlines when exchanges opened around the country Oct. 1.
Those issues remain a huge political challenge for the White House, which has heavily promoted the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
Administration officials initially attributed the technical woes to unexpectedly high traffic on the website.
They aren’t blaming “glitches” and “traffic” anymore, Politico reported. In fact, they haven’t said much at all in the past few days, while a string of leaked emails, memos and reports describe deeper hardware and software malfunctions, Politico said.
How long it will take to fix the problems is a matter of much speculation.
President Obama said in an interview Tuesday, “The website that was supposed to do this all in a seamless way has had way more glitches than I think are acceptable.”
Republican critics of the Affordable Care Act portray the problems as a sign the law is not working. And a few Democrats in Congress are urging that repairs of the online exchange be speeded up. Rep. Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, told Politico, “Clearly, there are problems that need to be fixed and they’re under way but it has to be accelerated.”
Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini said on CNBC that the system was developed so late that standard rounds of functionality testing are “happening on the fly.” And he warned of potential breakdowns in other parts of the system once the early problems are unraveled.
There are two key issues at the core of the problem, Dan Schuyler, a director at Leavitt Partners, a health care group, told USA Today. One is the volume, which Health and Human Services estimates at 14.6 million unique visitors, and the second is the platform’s design.
The main problem, Schuyler said, could be “core fundamental design flow,” but it’s impossible to know because HHS is saying so little. “Only the contractors and HHS know that,” he said.
They need to figure out the problem soon, Schuyler said, if the government is to meet its goal of 7 million new health customers signing up on the exchanges by March 31. “That’s 39,000 enrolled a day, and we’re not seeing anywhere near that volume,” Schuyler said. “If they don’t get it fixed within two or three weeks, we may have a backlog of consumers who won’t be able to enroll by January 1.”
HHS didn’t have enough time to test its system for “one of the most complex IT platforms undertaken by the feds or the states,” Schuyler told USA Today.
“We won’t stop improving healthcare.gov until its doors are wide open, and at the end of the six-month open enrollment, millions of Americans gain affordable coverage,” said HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters.