600 lock into health coverage in first 3 days of exchange


Since it opened its doors for business for the first time on Tuesday, Oct. 1, HealthSource RI, the health insurance exchange program uniquely designed for – and run exclusively by – the state of Rhode Island, has tallied up some big numbers.

“The last numbers I have were from Friday [for business through Thursday, Oct. 3],” Dara Chadwick, spokesperson for HSRI, said in an e-mail. But, she said, looking at those first three days, the new Contact Center at 70 Royal Little Drive, in Providence, had 146 walk-ins and 4,438 call-ins. The website (healthsourceri.com) had more than 30,000 visits. Nearly 3,000 new accounts were created. And even though the health insurance policies themselves won’t be in force until January 2014, nearly 600 previously uninsured Rhode Islanders chose to pay their premium and lock-in their policy now.

People have until Dec. 15 to purchase a plan for coverage as of New Year’s Day. But enrollment in HSRI will continue through March 31 next year.

Except for one short-lived website crash on the first day, the custom-designed software has had no problems at all.

“We suddenly spiked to 6,000 views a minute and the system crashed. We added another server and were back up within an hour,” Chadwick said last week.

That’s been pretty much the same story for most of the state-run health insurance exchanges established through the Affordable Care Act – ObamaCare. The health care reform law was passed in 2010 but wasn’t implemented until last week.

For the first time in U.S. history, affordable health care coverage became available to nearly every American citizen simultaneously in all 50 states. In 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, the health care exchanges are run by new departments within each state government.

The other 33 states chose to partner with the federal government to run their exchanges, or to disregard the law altogether and abrogate all responsibility for their state’s uninsured to Washington.

In a phone call to Kynect, Kentucky’s state-run exchange, a spokesperson reported they had some glitches the first day.

“It was the Tuesday morning rush. It overwhelmed the system. We had it handled in a couple of hours, though,” the spokesperson said.

In our neighboring Connecticut, AccessHealth CT reported their system went down midway through the first morning, but the problem was fixed by noon.

Chadwick said that any difficulty HSRI has had since then rests with Washington, D.C.

“Like many exchanges, we are experiencing intermittent troubles with identity verification on the federal side. We are working closely with federal officials to resolve this issue as quickly as possible,” said Chadwick.

Coincidentally, the same day HSRI opened, the U.S. Government suffered a partial shutdown, which still plagues the nation. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees were furloughed and haven’t returned to work. This may have complicated the start of ObamaCare, but it has no chance of proving fatal, most observers agree.

Chadwick said she could not say whether furloughed federal employees were having an impact on HSRI’s operation.

Exchanges like HSRI don’t provide government-run insurance, like Medicare or the VA. They simply provide a way for uninsured citizens to buy private insurance policies. The ACA prohibits private insurers from denying insurance to previously uninsurable people, or to charge higher rates for those with pre-existing conditions. They can’t discriminate against women by charging higher rates because of gender. And these policies must provide a long list of preventive health care for free.

Kathleen Sibelius, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, wrote a USA Today editorial saying that they are working “around the clock” to solve problems in the federal system. Indeed, starting last Friday the government site began closing for a few early morning hours each day to let technicians work.

Again, the major trouble stems from enormous and unexpected numbers of people phoning in and logging on. The U.S. software was designed to handle 50,000 people simultaneously. What it got was 250,000 people seeking health care information at the same time. The first day, it had eight times the concurrent users as their Medicare site, which had been the site with the heaviest usage by far, Sibelius wrote.


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