Day 1 of ACA health insurance exchanges hampered by glitches

Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange has just begun and already registration is experiencing technical difficulties. States across the country have been facing glitches with the online enrollment since before 7 a.m. Monday.

For organizations in the city of Columbia that offered face-to-face assistance with a “healthcare navigator,” the day started off slow, but began to pick up by noon.

“People have come in and we’ve been making appointments for later in the week,” said Wanda Pearson of The Cooperative Ministry.

Pearson said that they’ve been scheduling people to return later in the week when issues are expected to be resolved.

Residents in South Carolina were able to begin shopping for one of several health insurance plans offered in the Federal Marketplace starting Tuesday. For those who enroll before Dec. 15, coverage will be effective Jan. 1.

By January, anyone who signs up for insurance between the 1st and the 15th will have access to benefits the first day of the following month. Enrollment between the 16th and the last day of the month will guarantee an effective date of coverage on the first day of the second month.

Pearson said that she had heard that some support services would be affected because of the government shutdown. The website for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services might not get updated though funding for the health care navigators assisting customers at places like The Cooperative Ministry is still available, Pearson said.

“We’re just kind of waiting it out,” she said.

Pearson did note that she was receiving a high volume of calls, particularly in areas outside of the City of Columbia. Interest came from as far as Holly Hill and Orangeburg, a testament to the outreach The Cooperative Ministry initiated, Pearson stated.

“I have gotten lots of calls,” she said. “The interest is definitely there on the consumer side. Access to information is the challenge.”

Patti Embry-Tautenhan, director of corporate relations for Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, said their customer service center had received a substantial number of calls. She said that a lot of requests were made about Blue Cross Blue Shield products. The company also experienced a number of inquiries at their retail locations in Greenville and Mount Pleasant.

“Our websites are fully functioning,” Embry-Tautenhan said.

At a Monday afternoon news conference, President Barack Obama commented on problems with the online system. He called it “normal” citing Apple’s quick repair of a glitch in its newest iPhone a few days after it launched.

”I don’t remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads or threatening to shut down the company if they didn’t,” he said. “That’s not how we do things in America. We don’t actively root for failure. We get to work, we make things happen, we make them better, we keep going.”

Other organizations in South Carolina are fairly unfazed by the issues. The Benefit Bank of South Carolina had received a lot of calls for the day, but because they handle tax preparation and signing people up for Medicare, they could handle the influx of clients.

“We have gotten more calls than we’re used to,” said Alicia Jacobs, director of special projects at TBBSC. “We’re still manageable.”

Jacobs said her organization is focused on referrals and training their community partners to assist with health insurance registration. She stated that most people who call her offices don’t realize they might be eligible for Medicare. If they aren’t, they are referred to a local office nearby that can assist with the ACA exchanges.

Jacobs cautioned people to not get too concerned about any of the technical issues.

“I encourage people not to panic,” she said. “It’s not like you have to sign up today.”

Echoing a recorded message from The Cooperative Ministry, Jacobs said, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”