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Oregon exchange day 2: Brokers to the rescue

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GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Oregonians shopping for 2014 health insurance could not sign up through the state’s exchange website Wednesday, but private insurance brokers were taking calls, telling people about plans and premiums, and even signing up some people for coverage.

Cover Oregon spokeswoman Amy Fauver said problems with a computer program that determines a person’s eligibility for Medicaid and tax credits that reduce premiums still has too high an error rate. Managers of the state-based exchange say they will get the program working correctly by the end of October. The enrollment deadline for coverage that starts Jan. 1 is Dec. 15.

“With any IT rollout you know there are going to be glitches that didn’t get identified in our testing,” Fauver said.

As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, about 146,000 people had visited the website, and 3,500 had called the hotline, Fauver said.

Hart Insurance co-owner Erinn Fralich in Grants Pass said it was getting calls referred from the Cover Oregon website and making appointments to help people sign up in November, when the website is expected to be fully functional. People could sign up with a paper form and send it in, but it would take up to 45 days to be approved, so Fralich said his agency decided to wait until the website makes sign-ups instantaneous.

“We had a few individuals trek in, frantic, afraid that Oct. 1 was the first and last day you could apply for it,” said Bisi Carter, Cover Oregon coordinator at the Urban League of Portland.

Aflac agent Darrin Anselm in Grants Pass said he had received calls from 11 people who wanted to talk about coverage since the website went up Tuesday. Most were people in their 60s without health insurance who want coverage for a year or two until they qualify for Medicare, or parents between 21 and 35 looking for coverage for themselves and their children.

Anselm said he and other agents were able to use the website to go over plans with clients and calculate their premiums.

The nonprofit insurer Oregon’s Health CO-OP had about 20 people sign up for coverage Tuesday morning. Bob Dickes, director of sales and marketing, said Wednesday he estimated that the total was probably still under 100.

“We don’t expect people to actually enroll in October,” he said. “I expect people to shop and see what’s out there.”

Dickes noted that customers have to make a month’s payment when they sign up, so he expects more to do that closer to the first of the year, when coverage starts. He noted that the monthly premium for plans offered on Oregon’s exchange range between $180 and $400, and he expects insurance shoppers to check out between three and five carriers before making a decision.

Associated Press writers Tom Murphy in Indianapolis and Nigel Duara in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.

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