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Life Health > Health Insurance > Health Insurance

Governors hope for last-minute exchange rush

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MONTPELIER, Vt., and ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Officials in Vermont and Maryland are hoping healthier enrollment systems and an influx of procrastinators will improve public exchange enrollment totals.

In Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Thursday that residents are signing up in increasing numbers.

About 45,000 of the 65,000 people the state estimates qualify for health insurance coverage through the federally mandated health insurance exchanges have signed up, the governor said at a Statehouse news conference.

About 5,000 people have signed up since Monday, Shumlin said.

“We’ve signed up in the last four or five days as many people as signed up in the first five to six weeks of Vermont Health Connect,” he said.

The governor and other officials encouraged residents to sign up through the telephone or a one-on-one session with a “navigator” if the enrollment website has problems.

The state has responded to exchange website problems by letting Vermonters extend their current policies through March 31.

The state was going to require small businesses to buy all new policies through the exchange, even if the businesses also were using brokers. Small businesses in the state can now go directly to the state’s two health insurance providers, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Healthcare, to arrange coverage.

In Maryland, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said he is still aiming to meet the goal of enrolling 260,000 people in private insurance and Medicaid through that state’s public exchange by March 31.

O’Malley said state exchange managers have already fixed many glitches and should have a glitch relating to tax credits fixed this week.

Another problem has caused screens to freeze. O’Malley says exchange managers are still analyzing that problem but have made progress.

The state hopes to enroll 150,000 people through private insurance plans and another 110,000 in Medicaid by the end of March, when the individual exchange program open enrollment period closes.

As part of Maryland’s initiative, about 81,000 people who participate in the Primary Adult Care Program will automatically be eligible for Medicaid in January. So far, about 5,200 have used the exchange to enroll in private insurance plans, and 16,500 have used the exchange to enroll in Medicaid coverage.

“We’ve had a rocky first half, but we look to make up as much ground as we possibly can in the second half,” O’Malley said.

The Democratic governor said enrollment activity has increased in recent weeks.

He said he believes careful attention to protecting the privacy of enrollees has contributed to the computer problems and that website designers “probably erred on the side of security.”

“Some of the problems, some of the technical glitches with this site, were due to the fact that we designed it in a way that would make it much harder for people to access,” O’Malley said.

Exchange managers had thought about launching the website 60 days after the actual Oct. 1 launch date, O’Malley said.

He said he decided to stick with the Oct. 1 launch date, even though the site still had problems, to try to get as many people as enrolled as soon as possible.

“I wish it were as simple as buying a book from Amazon, but it’s not,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley also said the state hasn’t pushed hard on an advertising campaign to encourage enrollment, largely because the website has been troubled.

“We have yet to really begin the marketing aspects of this, because we want to get the site up to a better level of functionality, not perfection but functionality, before we start the marketing effort,” O’Malley said.

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