HELENA – Only 212 Montanans were able to choose a health insurance policy on the “Obamacare” online marketplace during its first month, federal officials reported Wednesday – although nearly 2,700 people completed an application.
Montana insurers selling policies on the problem-plagued website and groups trying to help people enroll said they’re glad at least some people have succeeded, but that the numbers are far below initial expectations.
Monica Lindeen, the state’s insurance commissioner, also said the performance of the federally operated website is “not acceptable.”
“I wish these numbers were higher,” she said. “Like so many Montanans who have attempted to use the federal website, I remain frustrated and disappointed by the performance of healthcare.gov.”
The Obama administration Wednesday said about 106,000 people nationwide have been able to use healthcare.gov or state-run websites to sign up for individual insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
That’s about one-fifth the amount the administration had predicted in September, just before the marketplace websites opened Oct. 1.
The marketplaces are a key component of the ACA, meant to sell health coverage to the uninsured or anyone who wants to shop for an individual policy.
Those earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level – $46,500 for one person – may be eligible for discounted policies, but must buy through the website to get the discount.
The federal government is operating websites in 36 states, including Montana. The federal website has been fraught with delays and malfunctions since its Oct. 1 launch. State-operated websites have had problems, too.
The administration said only 27,000 people got policies through the federal website the first month, while 79,000 did so through state-run websites – which still often have to use federal data hubs to complete the process.
In Montana, only 212 people got through the application process on the website and chose a plan, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported – although not all have actually paid their first premium yet.
Also, HHS said 2,683 Montanans had completed their application, which means their eligibility is being or has been determined, and that those applications cover 5,205 people.
The feds said 3,815 people in Montana have been deemed eligible to enroll, and of those 1,711 are eligible for a federal subsidy to help them pay for the policy.
Christine Kaufmann, navigator coordinator for the state’s federally funded health clinics, said while the Montana numbers are low, “we have to recognize that the system is being worked on.”
“I think it’s going to speed up dramatically between now and Dec. 15,” she said. “We’re hearing more reports every day of people who are getting through or at least getting better responses.”
Jerry Dworak, CEO of the Montana Health Co-op, one of three firms selling policies on the exchange, said he’s concerned about people getting discouraged with the website’s ongoing problems.
He said hundreds of people interested in buying health insurance through the marketplace are showing up at health fairs around the state, but when fair workers try to help them get through the website, it doesn’t work.
“You just don’t know how many people are going to come back,” he said. “I’m amazed that we’ve got as many people as we’ve got through in Montana, because it’s still very difficult. I still say, if and when it gets fixed, it still has a huge chance of being a big success.”
Montana’s sign-up numbers are higher than all but one of its neighbors. HHS reported that Idaho had 338 people choosing policies, while Wyoming had 85, South Dakota 58 and North Dakota 42.