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Colorado health exchange overseers want overhaul

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DENVER (AP) — Complaining of slow signups by people seeking insurance on the state health-insurance exchange, the Colorado exchange board pushed Monday for an overhaul to speed complex Medicaid and insurance applications.

The Connect for Health Colorado board is worried about a looming Dec. 15 deadline for those stuck in computer purgatory.

Consumers trying to enroll in private insurance plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) must first fill out a lengthy Medicaid application, and then wait to be approved or denied, before moving to the next step.

If Medicaid takes the full 45-day period allowed to give a response, current buyers will miss the Dec. 15 deadline to have coverage begin or continue Jan. 1, exchange board members warned.

The Connect for Health Colorado board is working with officials at Medicaid on both short- and long-term fixes. Many officials and consumer advocates believe the multi-step process is one reason exchange enrollments in Colorado are so low, at about 3,400 in six weeks.

“This is people who want to join us but can’t because of the collective challenges we have,” said board member Steve ErkenBrack, president of Rocky Mountain Health Plans in Grand Junction.

“I’m sitting on day 36″ waiting for Medicaid’s answer, said health care activist Donna Smith, who has battled cancer and needs new coverage. “This is a very real human issue, and day 36 is making me very nervous.”

Non-voting exchange board member Sue Birch, director of Medicaid’s overseer in Colorado, the Department of Health Care Policy and Finance, said simplification is under way.

Connect for Health CEO Patty Fontneau said the exchange and Medicaid will work to launch a unified, greatly simplified application by the next open-enrollment period in October 2014. Consumer advocates who spoke at a meeting Monday urged them to move up that deadline.

“Can we make this really simple? That’s all I’m asking,” said exchange board member Sharon O’Hara.

ErkenBrack and other board members expressed fears for nearly 250,000 individual policyholders notified that their 2013 insurance will not exist in 2014. Many of those have been told by their insurance carriers that their existing policies do not meet new minimum benefit and cost-containment rules in PPACA.

The affected consumers are scrambling to find new coverage, often on the exchange website. Federal rules require them to check first if they qualify for the expanded Medicaid program.

Colorado is one of 14 states that is running its own exchange under PPACA, and its problems are separate from those plaguing the federally run website.

The state Division of Insurance, meanwhile, said it will hold four public hearings around the state for consumers with canceled policies to vent frustration and seek answers. Insurance commissioner Marguerite Salazar announced the hearings in a phone conference with the board, but the office did not release dates, places or times.

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