Idaho health exchange launches with few hiccups

It draws thousands inquiring about insurance and reports fewer problems than many other states.

zkyle@idahostatesman.comOctober 2, 2013 

your health idaho, insurance exchange, healthcare

Heidi Zimmers, a customer service representative at Your Health Idaho’s call center in Boise, tries to help a customer on what was a busy first day.

DARIN OSWALD — doswald@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

Open enrollment in Idaho’s marketplace started Tuesday with high traffic and just a few temporary glitches.

Alberto Gonzalez, site director of the Your Health Idaho support call center in Boise, said he had been curious about whether consumers would fill his 10 phone lines on the first day of enrollment.

That question was answered before the office opened.

“I had wondered if it was us that made all this buzz about the opening and no one is going to call,” Gonzalez said. “But before we turned the lights on at 8 a.m., we saw there were already people on the line, waiting.”

The call center received 500 calls on the first day of open enrollment. Customer service representatives answered questions and directed callers to insurance brokers and “in-person assisters” available for free consultations to explain the nuances of the health care law and available insurance plans.

The exchange website, www.yourhealthidaho.org, had attracted 8,000 unique visitors by midday. No updated Idaho number was available at the end of the day. Nationwide, the number was about 2.8 million.

Online, the exchange had a bumpy start. Although it operates independently, Idaho’s exchange uses the federal exchange platform, which loaded slowly during peak traffic Tuesday morning. A link failed briefly, preventing some users from creating login accounts.

Exchanges in other states reported more severe delays. Minnesota got its site running after several hours. A spokesman for the New York Department of Health blamed difficulties on the 2 million visits to the website during its first 90 minutes. Exchange officials in Colorado said their website would not be fully functional for the first month. Hawaii’s marketplace didn’t allow people to compare plans and prices.

Amy Dowd, executive director of Your Health Idaho, said federal agencies have promised her they are addressing the problems.

“We’ve received confirmation that there are steps being taken to improve performance and speed to that process, and we have indication that performance is improving,” Dowd said.

She said at least 1,000 insurance applications have been processed nationally. Karen Early, Blue Cross of Idaho spokeswoman, said she didn’t have sales numbers for the day, but she verified her office received an application through the federal platform.

“We’ve received one, so therefore we know the system is working,” Early said.

Heidi Zimmer, a customer service representative at the exchange call center, said many callers were reassured to learn they have time to select a plan. Idahoans who enroll for a plan by Dec. 15 are guaranteed to be covered by Jan. 1. Open enrollment closes March 31.

“They want to know that resources are available, and that they don’t have to have everything done today,” Zimmer said. The answers: “You have some time. You are OK.”

Neither the exchange call center nor the in-person assisters at nearly 150 Idaho locations can sell insurance or advise consumers on what plan they should purchase. Consumers can view lists of both brokers and in-person assisters on the exchange website.

The first day of open enrollment was less than hectic for the five in-person assisters at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. The team had five appointments scheduled for Tuesday, each expected to be an hour long, said Laurea Howell, site director for access at the hospital.

Howell expects traffic will increase once the state’s $3.5 million marketing campaign for the exchange begins in about two weeks.

“I think people will sit back and wait to see how it’s going for the first week,” Howell said. “I anticipate about mid-October we’ll see quite a bit more traffic, especially with the new marketing that’s coming out, and knowing that Dec. 15 is the cutoff for the effective date of Jan. 1.”

Zach Kyle: 377-6464

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