Days into Oregonians' first use of Healthcare.gov, reviews are generally good, though the federal health insurance exchange is not without glitches and challenges, according to agents, insurers and consumers.
In the week before open enrollment began Nov. 15, and to a lesser extent today, the federal exchange's browse function has displayed some inaccurate information about certain individual health plans sold in Oregon, insurers and federal officials confirmed.
However, most of the errors have been fixed, insurers say, and the rest are expected to be corrected Friday night. Some agents report certain glitches and concerns. But most observers praised the website's functioning so far, including the state's two newest insurers.
"It's straightforward and it's quick," said Dawn Bonder, CEO of Health Republic, on Monday, "You can go from beginning to end (of enrolling) and that is definitely an improvement for Oregonians."
"We haven't had any problems at all," said Ralph Prows, CEO of Oregon's Health CO-OP. "We're pretty darn excited about how it's going."
In April, Oregon officials opted to shelve the Cover Oregon technology project and use Healthcare.gov instead, citing continuing problems with the state's hoped-for online one-stop-shopping experience.
In Oregon, more than 200,000 Oregonians, including many self-employed or retired people, purchase their own private health plans but are not on Medicare. While there is no requirement to use the federal exchange, it's the only way to access tax credits that are available to those making less than four times the federal poverty level, meaning $46,680 for a single-person household.
Insurer websites have made their own online connections to Healthcare. gov, meaning officials at the agency set up for Oregon's ill-fated technology project are largely on the sidelines on enrollment, other than public-service announcements and operating a call center to help consumers. Several insurers, however, credited Executive Director Aaron Patnode with working behind the scenes to get their errors fixed.
"We remain appropriately cautious," Patnode said. "We want to make sure we're on our toes so we're ready if things come up (but) in large part we're hearing that things are working pretty well for folks."
Some specific criticisms:
- Consumer Edward Mitchell of Hillsboro noted that several plans posted on Healthcare.gov do not include links to plan brochures and benefit summaries—important tools for consumers to compare plans.
- David Taxer of Portland Benefits Group expressed concern that the display of provider networks is generally not clear enough, meaning consumers may think they have a provider in their specific plan's network, when they don't. He called it " a disaster for people if they screw this up."
- Lisa Lettenmiaier, a broker who owns Health Source Northwest in Tigard, said she's gotten several calls from consumers expressing confusion after trying to use the website.
- Jennifer Stenkamp, a retired teacher in Redmond, echoed agents' concerns that the enrollment step where the site ask about income is very confusing -- "and I have degrees in English Education."
Agent Dan Neils of Agape Insurance in Oregon City reports a mixed experience. He said that the website crashed several times for his firm on Monday. Some plans' co-payment subsidies are incorrectly displayed for a small number of consumers, while deductibles for families are displayed in a way that is misleading. That said, "I'm overall very impressed with the application process," he said.
One problem occurred late Monday, he said: a couple that should have qualified for a $450-a-month tax credit were offered a $122-a-month credit instead. They called the Healthcare.gov help line for assistance, only to be routed back to Cover Oregon. Upon calling Cover Oregon they were told "for questions regarding 2015, call the Healthcare.gov phone number," Neils said. "As of today, someone who has problems and needs help is routed in a circle."
Fred Kane of Albany, a retired school administrator, said the site worked flawlessly for him, and found him a plan with lower premium and better benefits than the plan he was on last year.
"I entered the website at about 10 am on Saturday morning and it took me about 10 minutes to answer the questions and select a new Lifewise Silver plan," he said. He credited using an insurance agent, at no cost to himself, which "made a big difference for me."