By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Three.
That’s how many people had signed up for individual insurance – or, more aptly put, could sign up – with Gundersen Health Plan, one of 13 insurers participating in the federal health-care exchange in Wisconsin.
“That’s a lot lower than we were projecting,” Greg Skemp, director of sales and marketing for the La Crosse-based carrier told Wisconsin Reporter.
Skemp will tell you it’s not the insurance product that’s to blame for the less-than-impressive showing in the first couple weeks-plus of the national roll out of Obamacare enrollment. It’s the $93.7 million federal website ostensibly designed to move customers through the health insurance marketplace described as everything from “glitchy” to an utter fiasco.
“We are experiencing some of the same slow systems everybody else is,” Skemp said.
So is Arise Health Plan, the wholly owned subsidiary of WPS Health Insurance.
“We have nine people enrolled so far, as of last week,” said Ellen Foley, WPS vice president of corporate communications. “We suspect there are more pending in the exchange system, but they haven’t gotten to us yet.
“We are optimistic the marketplace technology will become easier to use.”
So far, not so much.
A Wisconsin Reporter review of the insurers in Wisconsin’s federally controlled Health Insurance Marketplace seems to confirm what the state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance told the MacIver News Service earlier this week: There has been “minimal participation” in the exchange to date. OCI estimated the number of people signed up was fewer than 50.
“We called all 13 carriers in the individual exchange and asked them. They gave us general numbers,” said OCI spokesman J.P. Wieske. “Everybody is aware of what’s going on with the website; we wanted to see what’s going on.”
The insurers who returned calls from Wisconsin Reporter all said the same thing: They are hearing an earful from would-be customers who keep getting kicked off the website.
“The Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) website is experiencing high volumes and significant access issues. Until these issues are resolved, be advised that connection times are very slow,” Arise notes on its website.
Even the insurers can’t get on the site, and they’re not getting much support from the federal government.
Skemp said Gundersen Health Plan doesn’t have a lot of “contact or direct interaction with the federal government these days.” He said he tried to create an account at healthcare.gov. After two weeks and a lot of failed attempts, Skemp said he was able to do it. As soon as he tried to shop and do price comparisons, however, Skemp got an error message, “Not Found.”
“We’ve been spending our own time online seeing if it’s working better. It ‘s really not. It’s really slow.”
A Forbes piece published Wednesday suggests the reason for the glacial pace of the website involves consumer sticker shock.
“(The Department of Health and Human Services) didn’t want users to see Obamacare’s true costs,” writes Forbes contributor Avik Roy.
He points to another report.
“Healthcare.gov was initially going to include an option to browse before registering,” reports Christopher Weaver and Louise Radnofsky in the Wall Street Journal. “But that tool was delayed, people familiar with the situation said.” Why was it delayed? “An HHS spokeswoman said the agency wanted to ensure that users were aware of their eligibility for subsidies that could help pay for coverage, before they started seeing the prices of policies.”
Compcare Health Services Insurance Corp., a subsidiary of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin, has “just begun to receive confirmation of enrollment in the federal exchanges,” said Scott Larrivee, spokesman for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, wrote in an email to Wisconsin Reporter.
While Larrivee said it’s too early to provide specific enrollment details, the insurer has seen “unprecedented call volumes and heavy web traffic for our exchange plans.” The spokesman did not respond to a Wisconsin Reporter’s follow-up email asking whether the calls were due to customer confusion and frustration over the federal website.
Perhaps the big winner so far is Brookfield-based Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative, which, according to CEO Robert De Vita, counted 21 subscribers and a total of 27 members in the insurer’s federally facilitated marketplace ranks as of Monday night.
“I’m not an apologist for what as a taxpayer you and I have paid for. Health insurance in this issue is as complicated as nuclear physics,” De Vita said. “That does not change the infrastructure piece from being a poor performer. I’m not a happy camper, I want to be selling this stuff.” While the exchange is a “channel” of business for the new insurer, De Vita said the cooperative isn’t simply counting on Obamacare business.
Skemp said Gundersen Health Plan put politics aside a long time ago. He urges patience with a the product and sounds optimistic the website will eventually perform up to its $94 million price tag. But so far, the insurer, perhaps like many others on the exchanges, has a “long way to go to make” projections on insured counts.
Meanwhile, insurers have urged anxious Obamacare customers to hold off on requests for paper health insurance applications because, as Skemp put it, insurers haven’t gotten clarification from HHS on what would happen to the documents after they are sent off, whether they would end up in a document “black hole.”
“It’s early on yet. We’ve got to work through it,” Skemp said. “We’ll cross our fingers that it works in the next couple of weeks.”
Contact M.D. Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org
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