Progress Report: the first week of open enrollment

Well, it’s been a week now – the new federal and state exchanges went live one week ago. So how are they doing?

Nobody will be surprised to learn that the answer is “not great.” That’s right – the big news for the first week of October (besides the government shutdown, of course) was the major “glitches” in the new insurance marketplace.

The NAHU Newswire, a daily news service provided by the National Association of Health Underwriters to thousands of members nationwide, recapped these stories throughout the week.

The headline after the first day was “Technical Glitches Dominate Coverage of Online Insurance Exchanges”.

The news the next day was no better. The headline read “On Day Two, ACA Market Glitches Attributed to High Volume”.

The days since have been no different – they’ve been marked by high volume, technical glitches, and frustrated consumers.

It all depends on who you ask

Obviously, the technical problems with the Healthcare.gov website are a major embarrassment for the Obama administration and a great source of entertainment for his republican counterparts, but what the technical problems really mean depends on who you ask. While opponents of the legislation say that the problems are proof of the “complete failure” of the health reform law, the administration says that the glitches, which are driven by the high volume of visitors, just show how popular the new marketplace is.

One thing is certain – government officials vastly underestimated the number of people who would visit the site in the first week of October. For an American public that was reportedly uneducated about the law, it appears that a lot of people were interested in seeing how they might benefit.

Impact on HPA

So what do the technical problems mean for HPA brokers? Well, that will depend in part on whether the broker is working his individual leads himself or having them routed to the call center and in part on whether his state developed its own exchange or left that task up to the federal government.

One very frustrated broker who’s trying to sell everything himself wrote the following in an email to his clients and prospects:

Individuals being routed to the call center are encountering similar problems, but their experience is a little different. Instead of waiting while the broker tries again and again to create an account for them on the Healthcare.gov website, they can talk to a licensed agent who is able to provide them with quotes and give them an idea about their ability to qualify for a subsidy.

True, the call center is also dependent on the state or federal exchange sites being operational in order to actually sell a subsidized plan, but they can get the process started, answer the individual’s questions, stage a follow-up call if necessary, and sell them some other products while they’re on the line.

Good things come to those who wait

At HPA, we share in our brokers’ frustration with all of the technical difficulties, but as we said at the beginning, this wasn’t unexpected. Nobody anticipated the government site to work out of the box, and the high volume is probably a good sign – as President Obama says, it’s evidence of the immense interest in the subsidies.

So there’s plenty of opportunity out there, and eventually HHS and the states will get the bugs worked out. In the meantime, brokers should be communicating that 1) the subsidies will benefit millions of Americans; 2) people have six months to enroll during this initial enrollment period – it doesn’t have to be done right away; and, most importantly 3) they have a solution that will help employees and individuals get set up with a subsidized health insurance policy and purchase supplemental products that will help fill in some of the gaps.

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