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WI health care exchange seeing few getting through

By   /   October 16, 2013  /   News  /   6 Comments

Part 34 of 97 in the series Obamacare

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.


BLOCKED: More than two weeks after its launch, relatively few people in Wisconsin are getting through the federal government website to sign up for health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges – including insurers.

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 [email protected]

Part of 97 in the series Obamacare
  1. Obamacare compliance means less money for TN service agencies
  2. The mystery of Obamacare spending in Arkansas
  3. Obamacare raises questions for MD small business owners
  4. Kansas official on Obamacare: ‘Let someone else be the guinea pig’
  5. Obamacare insurance marketplace has plenty of kinks on first day
  6. OR’s Obamacare insurance marketplace hits technological snag
  7. Fail: Day 1 of the New Mexico Obamacare rollout
  8. Senator asks: Do you want this dysfunctional government taking over health care?
  9. Jobs, coverage at risk with Obamacare, MN union health official says
  10. Oregon’s Obamacare ads resemble middle school art
  11. VIDEO: Obamacare vs Affordable Care Act: Comedy triumphs in court of confusion
  12. Patience is key to navigating Illinois’ Obamacare marketplace
  13. Hawaii residents, lawmakers frustrated with health connector glitches
  14. Healthy young, key to Obamacare, aren’t buying it
  15. NM’s health exchange tries to lure ‘young invincibles’
  16. Obama drama: Senator blames governor for big rate hikes
  17. Progressive group navigates Oregon students through Obamacare
  18. Maddening: Trying to log onto federal health care site
  19. You know that one guy who successfully signed up for Obamacare? He didn’t
  20. What’s wrong? It’s been a week, and Obamacare website still not working
  21. HHS Secretary Sebelius back in FL after embarrassing Obamacare rollout
  22. Health centers enroll Floridians in Obamacare as application problems persist
  23. VIDEO: Stewart skewers Sebelius on Obamacare
  24. Obamacare effect? 9 companies exit Nebraska’s health insurance market
  25. Obamacare: Children of undocumented parents face an uncertain future
  26. Which way do we go? Obamacare navigator registration in TN in question
  27. NM health exchange tries to ease problems with Obamacare website
  28. CPA says hype over Obamacare small business tax credit is misleading
  29. Obamacare navigator under fire for arrest warrant
  30. Reports of Obamacare fraud emerge in Tennessee
  31. After two weeks, FL online Obamacare enrollees are hard to find
  32. Illinois state governor touts 100K Obamacare enrollees, all in Medicaid
  33. Kansas lawmaker calls for crackdown on Obamacare navigators
  34. WI health care exchange seeing few getting through
  35. Hawaii’s Obamacare exchange relaunches with more glitches
  36. We’ll know next month how many people in NM signed up for Obamacare — maybe
  37. Zero: Number of Nebraskans Obamacare navigators have signed up
  38. It took this Delaware woman 11 days to sign up for Obamacare – and she was the first
  39. How many people have signed up for health insurance in VA? Who knows?
  40. What else? NM federal health exchange ads stalled due to website problems
  41. Blue Cross hires temp workers to deal with Obamacare glitches
  42. If Obamacare is the next Medicare, will physicians leave en masse?
  43. Three problems that won’t be solved by fixing the Obamacare exchange glitches
  44. Plenty of Oregonians interested in Obamacare, but none can enroll online
  45. Criticize this: Obamacare premiums a near match to WI disclosures
  46. Report: Missourians will see sharp rise in premiums under Obamacare
  47. Kansas navigators say they’ve enrolled no one in Obamacare
  48. Obamacare too costly for rich Coloradans, Democrat congressman says
  49. Study: Kansas premiums to spike following Obamacare rollout
  50. Hang on to your candy: Creepy Uncle Sam is back
  51. Obamacare or bust: NM Watchdog turned back again
  52. Medical journals, experts refute claim that Medicaid cuts ER use
  53. Arkansas spends $4M on Obamacare ads, wants more
  54. LOL: In July video, HHS bragged about being ‘on schedule’ with Obamacare
  55. Illinois uses Day of the Dead to market Obamacare
  56. Sebelius denies GOP’s Terry ‘unreliable’ Obamacare info
  57. About 290,000 Washington residents lose health insurance plans
  58. Broken promise: Obamacare cancels almost 20,000 Kansas health care plans
  59. Top hospitals opt out of Obamacare
  60. Obamacare moves to intensive care
  61. Obamacare provision could lead to more Medicaid fraud
  62. Obamacare: Religious groups want to ‘move mountains’
  63. Obamacare hitting Wisconsin residents with double whammy
  64. Kansas AG: Obamacare threatens consumer privacy
  65. 1,500 in New Mexico have to move out of the high-risk insurance pool
  66. Cover Oregon website fiasco creates jobs, but costs millions
  67. For Florida’s Obamacare small business exchange, it’s crunch time
  68. Only 877 Wisconsinites have signed up for Obamacare, federal report says
  69. Just 172 in NM have completed Obamacare applications: ‘Woefully inadequate,’ says NMIX board member
  70. With only 346 Oklahomans signed up, leaders decry ‘Obamacare debacle’
  71. Defying Obamacare: ‘Send them the bill,’ NM insurance official says
  72. Kansas Obamacare enrollment dwarfed by nearly 20,000 cancellations
  73. Numbers don’t lie: In Illinois, Obamacare means Medicaid
  74. Wisconsin governor proposes insurance plan to address Obamacare rollout failure
  75. Tennesseans might know Tuesday if they can keep canceled health insurance
  76. People demand answers over Oregon’s Obamacare fail
  77. Calif. says ‘no’ to Obamacare freebies, makes own law
  78. HI health exchange violates federal law, League of Women Voters say
  79. Obamacare video winner: ‘Forget about the price tag’
  80. Harvard study finds ‘striking’ rejection of Obamacare by young Americans
  81. HI health exchange has signed up 574 people, for about $348,000 apiece
  82. Are the uninsured getting Obamacare coverage in Illinois?
  83. Secret Obamacare handbook the feds don’t want you to see is online
  84. Lost in translation: Once-supportive Hispanics turning backs on Obama, ACA
  85. HI Obamacare exchange not fiscally sustainable, lawmakers told
  86. Illinois’ latest Obamacare targets: gold diggers and momma’s boys
  87. Now Democrats are bashing California’s Obamacare exchange, too
  88. Obamacare: For $1.37M we get Richard Simmons in lurid web stream
  89. Obamacare: A welcome mat for IRS horrors
  90. California senator seeks audit of state Obamacare exchange
  91. Report: Hawaii ranks worst for Obamacare signups
  92. CA senator sues Obamacare exchange for causing policy cancellations of 1M
  93. Failure of Maryland Obamacare exchange could mean higher premiums in North Dakota
  94. Video: Watch Creepy Uncle Sam make it rain
  95. Five bright spots surrounding the Obamacare exchange failures
  96. Obamacare architect admitted in 2012 states without exchanges lose subsidies
  97. Architects of Richard Simmons Obamacare dance-off rehired in $156M PR campaign


M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.

  • Dan

    Remember the good ol’ days, when the “insurance exchange” was the Yellow Pages? One would call, stop in, or email an independent agent who would then ask questions to determine your coverage needs, shop around the pricing and options from the providers the agent represents, and get back to you with a variety of choices.

    Now, from the comfort of your own home, you can stare at a 404 screen for a couple weeks instead of getting covered. Just hope you don’t have a medical problem while you’re waiting for the federal exchange to get its $#!+ together.

    In all seriousness, if you need to use the exchange (how else are you going to get taxpayers to subsidize your medical insurance premiums in order to make it ‘affordable’?), you might be better off using the phone: 800-318-2596

  • Jullie Sad

    I live in the state of Washington but this is probably relevant to all the states. Has anyone heard anything about having to file a formal appeal using a healthcare exchange’s Appeal Process for an Eligibility Determination if you update your income? A Washington Healthplanfinder customer service representative told me on the phone Wednesday evening that I would have to do that. That is a fairly big process and even if done on the phone it takes 15 days to get a hearing and up to 90 days to get a decision and *all decisions are final*. Was this guy wrong? Is it possible that because I increased my monthly income by 26 bucks that I will have to wait months to get a tax credit? That means I will have to pony up almost $700 a month for maybe 2 or 3 months. Is that possible? Anyone out there have an idea?

  • betsy

    A friend stopped by yesterday and related what happened to her with Obamacare. Since she does not need insurance, she decided to see how it would be if she did NOT have coverage through her husband’s union dependent coverage. The results were not encouraging. Her deductible would go up $5,000 and her monthly payments would be upwards of $700. This is a person who works part time for a company who does NOT provide ANY benefits. How is this helping her? In order for Obamacare/ACA to work for her would be for her to quit her job. That hardly makes any sense at all.

  • MacDoc

    According to Fox News, the actual cost of the FFE web site is about $500 million.


  • LeAnn Addleman

    And when you put all your information in the system to check rates and coverages and premiums, they’ve got you. Major source for identity theft and more spying.

  • LeAnn Addleman

    Remember when insurance was a choice because people were inherently more healthy? This is all a plan, first to make most of us sick, push drugs and surgery and then force a government run insurance mandate on all of us.