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Uncertainty continues in HHS exchange states

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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Public exchange watchers in states with exchange programs run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are seeing a little enrollment activity in some cases and have no activity information at all in others.

HHS is running Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange enrollment through the website in 36 states.

In South Dakota, for example, Avera Health Plans, Sanford Health Plan and DAKOTACARE have authorization to sell plans through the exchange system.

Avera has reported getting 21 exchange enrollments as of Thursday. Sanford Health reported two signups.

DAKOTACARE has had no sales yet, the Argus Leader reported.

Meanwhile, in Utah, Randal Serr, director of health care outreach and advocacy organization Take Care Utah, told members of that state’s Health System Reform Task Force that his group is unsure how many people have signed up for exchange coverage.

In South Dakota, Deb Muller of Avera said enrollments have met Avera’s expectations for the first two weeks of the exchange’s operation. She said she expected some technical problems with the new computer system.

Muller said people in her office have tried the online exchange, but have been unable to get all the way through the process.

“There are still some hangups, but we know it is working,” Muller said. “I don’t know the answer for why it works for some and it doesn’t work for others.”

Ruth Krystopolski, president of Sanford Health, said the two people who have signed up for the company’s coverage through the exchange appear to be eligible for 100 percent premium subsidies by the government. However, Sanford Health has no way to verify an applicant’s income and has raised that issue with federal officials, she said.

In Utah, Serr said officials seem to have improved system performance by giving consumers a way to compare plans without first creating user accounts.

Despite the roadblocks, Serr said his group is receiving 10 to 20 phone calls a day from people with questions about the law or seeking help in signing up for coverage.

Take Care Utah and other organizations have also been delayed in getting people certified to help people enroll in coverage or navigate their choices. Take Care Utah has only two fully licensed navigators, but it hopes to have 15 or 16.

Tyler Fisher, a programming director with the Utah Aids Foundation, said his organization is in the final stage of licensing and fingerprinting staff to become trained navigators.

Leanna VanKeuren, with the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake, said her organization too is still working to get three navigators certified.

In another HHS exchange state, Iowa, researchers at the University of Iowa Public Policy Center say in a new survey report that most Iowans who are eligible to buy subsidized exchange coverage will want help with signing up.

Most of those individuals reported being uncomfortable selecting health insurance plans through online exchanges, and the majority said they thought they would need “some or a lot of help,” the researchers said.

Only about 10 percent of Iowans with group coverage and 11 percent likely to be eligibile for individual exchange plan program tax credit subsidies said they had heard about PPACA from insurance agents. The consumers said they were about as likely to have heard about PPACA through social media as from agents, and they said they were much more likely to have heard about the law from television programs, newspaper articles, conversations with families and friends, and radio reports.

About 23 percent of the survey participants with group coverage and 30 percent likely to buy individual coverage through the exchange said they would like to get help from an insurance agent.

About 29 percent of the consumers said they would be likely to try to post-sale service from insurance agents. Consumers were about as likely to try to get help from agents as from community groups and state employees. They were more likely to say they would try to get help from their employers and from the exchange plans’ websites.

Allison Bell contributed information to this report.

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