State insurance commissioner Monica Lindeen told lawmakers Tuesday she’s getting no answers from the feds on when Montana’s online health insurance “marketplace” will work – and she’s not happy about it.
Lindeen, a Democrat, also reminded a legislative committee that Montana could have built its own state-run marketplace, as part of “Obamacare,” but that majority Republicans at the 2011 Legislature refused to authorize it.
“You’re not supposed to say ‘I told you so,’ but I really have to say that at this time,” she told the Economic Affairs Interim Committee. “I hope in the future we’re able to close the gaps and work together … when we have an issue like this that is so important.”
Also on Tuesday, groups training counselors or “navigators” to help people buy health insurance through the online marketplace said they continue to see plenty of interest in the process – even though it’s not really working.
“Yes, there is frustration with the website,” said Christine Kaufmann, navigator program coordinator for the Montana Primary Care Association. “But people are surprisingly patient. What they want is more information.”
Kaufmann said shoppers for the discounted health-insurance policies are using this time to study their options, in preparation for when the website begins working properly.
To get federal subsidies to help pay for private health policies available on the marketplace, consumers must use the website www.healthcare.gov to buy policies from one of three private insurers.
The federally run websites in 36 states, including Montana, have been fraught with major technical problems since opening Oct. 1. Consumers are having trouble registering and signing in and usually are unable to make it through the entire process to buy a subsidized policy.
Federal health officials haven’t released any numbers on how many Montanans have bought policies through the website. Interviews with insurers selling policies and navigator groups indicate only a handful of policies have been processed in Montana.
Chris Hopkins of the Montana Health Network, a cooperative of hospitals in eastern Montana, said Tuesday the group’s navigators have not been able to get a single person enrolled for health insurance through the website.
Hopkins said he’s hopeful the website will work eventually, but worried about a possible crunch of people trying to sign up before the Dec. 15 deadline to get a policy effective Jan. 1.
Lindeen also told lawmakers that Montanans shopping for policies on the marketplace can use a paper application or apply over a toll-free telephone line.
“Until (the website is fixed), that’s pretty much the options we have at this point,” she said. “We’re not getting a lot of answers. … What you see in the press is pretty much what we’re getting.”
Rep. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, who said he has tested the marketplace website, asked about the numerous personal financial questions people must answer once they sign on, such as what bank they use and what company holds their mortgage.
Kathy Burton, an insurance agent with Bern & Pugh Inc. of Great Falls, said as part of the process, consumers agree to make their credit history available, so the government can check their identity.
“You may be asking the government for a subsidy, so that is protection they have put in place, to make sure they know who you are before they offer you a subsidy,” she said.
The credit information is supplied by Experian, a credit-scoring company, she said.