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Nebraskans still jamming exchange site

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nonprofit groups were still working Monday to sign Nebraskans up for health insurance through the new public exchange system, despite computer problems that have lasted for nearly a week.

The nonprofit group Community of Nebraska reported that some residents were able to create accounts within the new federal website, But they were still unable to access details about the plans offered in Nebraska.

Federal officials have said the logjam was due to intense demand that overloaded Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange websites and jammed phone lines. Nebraska officials have opted for a federally facilitated exchange set up within the state, which includes the website, a toll-free number and paper applications.

Some residents are enrolling with help from health insurance navigators, who were trained to walk people through the process. The navigators include case managers who already work for local Community Action of Nebraska offices, in addition to new staff members hired in local offices.

“To my knowledge, creating the account is as far as we’ve gotten,” said Aaron Bowen, chief operating officer for Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders County in Lincoln. “We’re using the toll-free number to call in so people can do some of the enrollment over the phone. It isn’t ideal, but it’s where we’re at.”

Bowen said his office had connected with about 40 people by phone since last Tuesday, and held in-person appointments with another 10.

“It seems like the pace is picking up more as people find out information,” he said.

Roger Furrer, executive director of Community Action of Nebraska, said Monday that most residents calling his office about enrollment have come from Douglas, Lancaster and Scotts Bluff counties, representing some of the state’s most populated areas. The calls were referred to local offices in those areas, he said.

The exchange system, or marketplace system, was created to help consumers shop for insurance and to see whether they qualify for PPACA federal subsidies to help pay for coverage. PPACA includes a mandate that all residents have health insurance or face tax penalties.

Nebraskans who receive coverage through the state’s comprehensive, high-risk insurance pool are slated to lose their state coverage on Jan. 1. Furrer said the state has already notified those residents that they’ll need to enroll in the marketplaces by Dec. 7 at the latest to maintain continuous coverage. Shifting them into the exchange is expected to provide a net cost savings for the state.

Two groups — Community Action of Nebraska and the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska — have received federal grants to hire and trained insurance “navigators” who will work to draw people into the exchange and walk them through the process. Community Action of Nebraska is seeking to enroll some 42,000 residents, while the Ponca Tribe is targeting an estimated 4,500 Native Americans who lack health insurance.

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