By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
Updated 7:13 p.m. Tuesday
LINCOLN — Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska has hired temporary workers to deal with mistakes and problems with enrollment applications, which are trickling in from the state’s federally run health insurance exchange.
Under this phase of Obamacare, people without insurance must buy it or pay a penalty beginning next year, and on Oct. 1, they could start shopping around for a plan on the Obama’s administration’s healthcare.gov. But the website has been beset with glitches preventing most people from successfully completing applications for health insurance. Ten days in, Blue Cross had only received about four applications via the federal website in Nebraska.
But now the applications are beginning to come in faster, and the company received about 50 by Friday, according to Blue Cross spokesman Andy Williams.
Finally, some good Obamacare news, right? Well, sort of. The problem is, the applications are coming in with errors, so Blue Cross is using temps to process them manually and contact consumers directly.
“All of the enrollees are being contacted to verify information because in many cases it is coming to us as inaccurate or incomplete,” Williams said via email.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported insurance companies are seeing duplicate enrollments, spouses reported as children and missing data – with one customer signing up for three plans. Williams didn’t have specifics on the problems they’re seeing with applications.
“From what we can gather, most everybody is dealing with the same issues, and we’re prepared to handle what comes and get people enrolled in the coverage they need,” he said.
Blue Cross is Nebraska’s largest health insurer, with nearly half the individual market cornered. It has done a lot of groundwork trying to teach Nebraskans about how Obamacare works, with consumer road shows and advisers working with people on the phone.
“People are confused, fearful, angry, not sure what to do,” Williams said. “We’re trying to calm the waters as much as we can with solid, basic information and help to walk through it.”
And while the Wall Street Journal said some insurers were pressured by federal health officials not to publicly talk about the problems they’re seeing with applications, Blue Cross has not been told by any officials what to say or not say, Williams said. The company’s position on the law is that while there are good aspects — such as guaranteed coverage — it doesn’t address the primary issue: the cost of health care. But their refrain has been “it’s the law of the land” and they’ll do everything they can to implement it smoothly.
President Obama on Monday addressed the problems with the federal website, saying it has been visited 20 million times and more than a half million people have successfully applied for insurance on state and federal exchanges.
“There’s no excuse for the problems,” he said. “These problems are getting fixed. We are doing everything we can possibly do to get the websites working better, faster, sooner.”
After the president’s speech, U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns responded with a news release saying the real problem is the president’s refusal to recognize the law’s “serious defects.”
“This law has led to higher costs and has caused families to lose their current health care coverage, despite repeated promises neither would happen,” Johanns said. “An overhauled website isn’t going to fix the underlying fact that Obamacare is not a workable law.”
Johanns cited the fact that nine insurance companies have left the state’s major medical insurance market in recent months, and a study that found Nebraska would see some of the biggest premium hikes nationwide.
The Nebraska Insurance Department has said health insurance costs will go up for most Nebraskans if you compare current rates to those on the exchange, with increases of up to 145 percent, according to its analysis.
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