MT Insurance companies see trickle of applications come through from Obamacare

Oct 23, 2013

Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Monica Lindeen
Credit Courtesy Monica Lindeen

  The state’s insurance commissioner says Montanans are still having problems signing up for health insurance on the Affordable Care Act online marketplace. Most states, including Montana, opted to let the Federal Government run their Obamacare market. The federal site has been plagued with glitches and technical problems for three weeks now, and it is not clear when they will all be fixed.

Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Monica Lindeen said Wednesday that is not acceptable.

Montanans looking to get federal subsidies for their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act have three options: A 1-800 number, sending in a paper application, and the way that’s been pitched the most from the beginning—by logging onto

It’s been very hard to do that last one. For weeks, the site has been glitching, not allowing people to sign up for plans.

“This goes deeper than just having too many people trying to log on at the same time,” Lindeen said.

President Obama and other top officials have been strongly urging supporters not to give up on the website.

“By now, you’ve probably heard that the website has not worked as smoothly as it was supposed to,” Obama said in a video uploaded this week by Organizing for Action, a nonprofit which supports the President’s agenda.

“But we’ve got people working overtime in a tech surge to boost capacity and address the problems, and we’re gonna get it fixed,” he said.

“I have confidence they are probably putting the best and brightest on it right now,” Lindeen said, but that that should have been the case from the very beginning.

“I mean, let’s face it, this is the President’s signature policy of his Presidential career,” she said. “I would have thought they would have made sure that it went off without a hitch.”

Lindeen fought in front of the 2011 legislature for Montana to run its own, state-based exchange. Republican majorities turned that proposal down. Lindeen said the state-based exchanges around the country have largely had greater success with their sites and she believes that would have been the case in Montana too.

Three companies are offering insurance policies on Montana’s Obamacare site--Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Montana, PacificSource and the Montana Health Co-op.

Jerry Dworak is the CEO at the Montana Health Co-op.

“I’ve been trying to get through for three weeks myself and I haven’t been able to get completely through without getting hit with an error,” said Montana Health Co-op CEO Jerry Dworak.

The Co-op was founded because of the Affordable Care Act, to provide more competition on the online marketplace. Dworak said he’s encouraged by the amount of interest the Co-op has received.

“The first day that the exchange was open, we had over 4,000 hits on our website, and 250 calls,” he said.

The co-op’s website continues to get between 800 and a thousand hits a day.

“It’s frustrating that people call here, they shop our website and they find out what the net cost is gonna be and they say we want to buy and we say you’ve got to go through, and then they kind of cringe,” he said.

Dworak said a little more than 30 applications have successfully made it through from people looking to buy plans from the co-op. Ultimately, he said the new startup is totally dependent on the federal website working properly.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana Communications Director John Doran said the company is not releasing numbers of Obamacare enrollees at this time. But, he said even when customers do get through the marketplace and enroll, the federal system isn’t communicating everything fully.

“And so the necessary documentation isn’t sometimes finalized, and then we have to go back and contact that person to finalize the plan,” he said.

Doran still suggests people go to the blue cross blue shield website, where customers can compare plans and see projected subsidies.

Officials for PacificSource, the third insurance company on the exchange, were not immediately available for comment.

Commissioner Monica Lindeen said people can only be patient for so long, and she hopes Montanans don’t get so discouraged by the glitches that they give up. She said the insurance plans offered on Montana’s exchange are good products. Her office has reviewed every one of them.

“Given the opportunity for people to sign up for them, given the opportunity to look at being eligible for some of these tax credits to make them more affordable is going to be a huge benefit to thousands of Montanans, tens of thousands of Montanans,” she said.

The deadline to enroll in Obamacare insurance plans that start on the first of the year is December 15th.