Las Vegas Sun

July 27, 2014

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Nevada health exchange a work in progress

President Barack Obama’s health care marketplaces launched nationwide Oct. 1, but the rollout hasn’t gone smoothly in Nevada.

While Nevada’s health insurance marketplace was held up as a model for other states in the early days of its development, many consumers trying to shop for health insurance have had difficulties using the state’s Nevada Health Link website now that it’s up and running.

Much of the system just wasn’t ready days before the website was set to launch, according to a progress report from Nevada Health Link.

Obama’s health care law, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, requires all Americans to have health insurance by 2014. The law created health insurance “exchanges,” marketplaces where people looking for health insurance can examine insurance plans, find out whether they qualify for subsidies, and purchase the insurance plan they want.

But Nevada Health Link has had more than a few unhappy customers.

They’ve taken to the Nevada Health Link Facebook page to complain about glitches, errors and other problems with the website.

“I am caught in an infinite loop of being able to DO NOTHING,” wrote Gregg Stokes on the exchange’s Facebook page last week. “When can I be one of your success stories?”

Stokes told the Sun in an email that he runs a small business and has a family of four. His wife is a cancer survivor, meaning he’s been unable to change insurance companies because of that pre-existing condition.

So, he is an eager customer for a health insurance product under Obama’s law, which no longer allows insurers to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

His research indicates he’ll be able to save money on the exchange.

Stokes just wishes the web portal would work better.

“I know there are a lot of people who hope it crashes and burns, but I am one of the people who hopes it becomes fairly simplified,” he said. “I’ll definitely buy it on an exchange, but there still are some problems with it.”

Even the exchange’s director, Jon Hager, said on the Facebook site that he encountered technical problems when he created a personal account.

Work in progress

Officials acknowledge that they launched a website that is a work in progress.

According to the last status report issued three days before the site launched, four of seven system components were at risk of being incomplete.

State officials said many of those concerns have been addressed and that the exchange has been transparent about the problems it has encountered.

The exchange has had to delay the implementation of several web tools and functions that could improve the consumer experience.

One such function would provide a live, online chat session with a customer service representative who could help answer questions.

State officials don’t expect those web tools to exist until later this month or early November.

A web portal allowing insurance brokers to access the system also wasn’t up and running as of last week, brokers said. The web portal finally went live Friday.

But for the first two weeks of the exchange, brokers who had wanted to help consumers couldn’t.

“We’re losing business, and we aren’t able to help the people,” said Hawley MacLean, CEO of the Reno-based MacLean Financial Group last week. “It’s a big issue that needs to be resolved immediately.”

MacLean put his staff through state-administered training so that his employees would be certified to help people shop for insurance on the exchange. The delay was frustrating.

$72 million system

Under the law, states had the opportunity to either operate their own exchange or use a federal system. Gov. Brian Sandoval opted to run a state-based exchange called the Silver State Exchange.

Nevada has obligated $72 million to a contractor, Xerox, to run the exchange’s Internet system, Nevada Health Link.

Since the Oct. 1 launch, about 121,000 people have visited the site, with about 1,700 selecting health insurance plans.

On Dec. 16, Nevada Health Link will report how many people have actually enrolled and paid for insurance.

State officials are hoping 118,000 people will enroll in health insurance through the Silver State Exchange between October and March 2014.

Contractors who are advising consumers about their health insurance options on the exchange say that most people have been able to complete their applications.

The Ramirez Group is one such contractor.

The group’s CEO, Andres Ramirez, said that his group has helped several hundred people enroll in an insurance plan since the exchange launched.

He downplayed glitches and other technical problems consumers have encountered.

“That’s just what happens with the nature of a rollout of any platform,” he said. “When you updated your iPhone just six weeks ago, your iPhone crashed. It’s not a big deal. This is what happens.”

Insurance companies such as the nonprofit, member-owned Nevada Health Co-Op say they’ve prepared for possible glitches on the exchange and are operating their own websites where people can calculate subsidies and enroll in insurance plans.

“We’ve heard that the exchange website is tough to navigate, but they can go through our website to get all of our off-exchange products,” said Bobbette Bond with the Nevada Health Co-op. “We thought that the exchanges across the country would have some challenges because they’re new, so we’re happy to provide services as they work through the bugs.”

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