One week in, is barely operational

But state-run insurance marketplaces are doing ok

Published: October 08, 2013 05:45 PM

If you’ve been trying to shop for insurance on one of the 36 state Health Insurance Marketplaces that are using as their front door, it’s a near-certainty that you haven’t managed to enroll in a plan. You probably haven’t even managed to create an account yet. Instead, you’ve spent a lot of time looking at the “hurry up and wait” screen pictured here.

The administration is trying to put a good face on it, touting the 8.6 million “unique visitors” who had visited the site by the end of the day on Friday. But they’ve so far not disclosed how many visitors actually succeeded in creating an account, let alone securing coverage. The Wall Street Journal quoted industry experts as estimating that “the number of those who were able to create accounts and shop for coverage is likely in the low thousands.” And insurers selling plans on the federally-run marketplaces have seen only a trickle of applications, many of which had incomplete information, according to the Journal article.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services took the application part of the site down over the weekend to make “enhancements” to the enrollment process. “We expect that Monday…there will be significant improvements in the online consumer experience,” said HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters. But on Tuesday I tried to set up an account on the site, and so did one of our electronics experts. We both managed to create passwords and user names and record our answers to three security questions, but then immediately hit an error message.

Health reform countdown: We are doing an article a day on the new health care law until Jan. 1, 2014, when it takes full effect. (Read the previous posts in the series.) To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper.

Meanwhile, in marketplaces run by states, things are running much more smoothly. In Washington state’s Washington Healthplanfinder, for instance, as of the close of business Monday, Oct. 7, 9,452 people had successfully enrolled in a private health plan or Medicaid, and another 10,500 had selected and applied for private health plans but hadn’t yet completed the last step of the process—submitting a credit card or bank routing number to pay the first premium, said spokeswoman Bethany Frey. Within the first two days of operation, Connect for Health Colorado reported that 8,400 visitors had created accounts.

Covered California, the largest state-run marketplace, reported today that about 43,600 people had registered and started the application process, and 16,300 had actually made it to the point where they were told whether they’re eligible for Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid program) or for a premium tax credit that they can use to purchase a private plan.

Even tiny Connecticut has sent 1,175 applications to insurers through its state-run marketplace, Access Health CT.  “Things have been running pretty smoothly,” said spokeswoman Kathleen Tallarita. “We had a lot of planning and smart people behind the scenes knowing what they’re doing, and a lot of end-to-end testing done.”

If your state’s marketplace enrollment goes through (here’s our list of state marketplaces), your best strategy right now is to wait a couple of weeks and hope that the site irons out its many problems. Any coverage you obtain through won’t start until Jan. 1, 2014 at the earliest anyway, and you have until Dec. 15 to enroll, so there’s really no big rush.

Have you tried to sign up for coverage or create an account on a marketplace? Let our health insurance expert know how it went.

— Nancy Metcalf

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