The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Federal health insurance marketplace opens, with some maladies on the software front
The federal health insurance marketplace, a key component of the federal Affordable Care Act, launched Tuesday with reports of software glitches.
Obama administration officials hailed the technical problems as a good thing, crediting them to large numbers of people trying to use the marketplace website.
Visitors to that website, healthcare.gov, Tuesday morning were greeted with some error notices or long wait times. Those glitches continued throughout the day—an attempt to log in late Tuesday afternoon never got past a page that said “Please wait.”
The website is the portal for the federal insurance exchange, in which Virginia is participating—some states have set up their own, separate marketplaces.
According to President Barack Obama during an afternoon speech in the Rose Garden, more than 1 million people visited the federal site before 7 a.m., which was better than officials expected but also contributed to site delays.
By late afternoon, the Department of Health and Human Services was reporting that more than 2.8 million people had visited the site since midnight.
Another 81,000 people had called the federal marketplace’s toll-free phone line.
People can buy insurance through the marketplace online or over the phone, or get in-person help from local people called navigators.
In Fredericksburg, though, demand for that in-person help was sparse.
A hand-drawn sign declaring “Affordable Care Act Information” hung from a card table outside Suite 140 in the office building at 500 Lafayette Blvd.
But no one sat there.
Volunteer health care navigator Ray Scher thought he’d be fielding insurance questions from walk-ups for hours on the morning that the federal health care marketplace opened.
In the first hour or two after healthcare.gov went live, he received five phone calls from people that all happened to be uninsured currently. Meanwhile, he watched the blinking red light on his answering machine, knowing more people had questions.
“We just don’t know,” he said about what the state’s 16 navigators and volunteers were to expect this week.
Tuesday was the first day where policies were available online, and Scher encourages anyone to set up an account to learn more about what their options are. If they still have questions, then he suggests contacting the navigator’s offices, set up by federal grant money to help people understand the Affordable Care Act.
Scher, a retired nurse and volunteer with Virginia Organizing, said the office doesn’t steer people, but instead provides information so that people can make their own choices.
He recommends that everyone take their time looking at policies; enrollment is open through March 31. One woman who called said that the premiums were so high—but that was before being offset by federal subsidies that are based on income.
Appointments are available, and the navigator’s office may do outreach in its 16-county coverage area.
By the end of the first day, Scher had gotten 12 calls and about that many emails, but no walk-ins.
He said the day’s news of the federal government shutdown might have contributed to the relative quietness, although the exchanges aren’t affected by that shutdown—the funding to run the exchange is already budgeted.
Scher said people should take their time to look at their options. They have that time—enrollment in exchange plans doesn’t close until the last day of March 2014.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028