Thursday, April 17, 2014
A federal health official said Wednesday in Portland that he is “excited” about the progress being made with the website whose shaky launch prevented many Americans from signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Ray Hurd, regional administrator for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, leads a forum explaining the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday at USM.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
“I’m actually kind of excited today,” said Raymond Hurd, regional administrator for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “HealthCare.gov is working much better. We had one million visitors to the site on Monday and the site didn’t crash.”
Hurd and insurance officials spoke at a lightly attended health care forum Wednesday at the University of Southern Maine. The event was organized by state Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland.
HealthCare.gov was designed to be the most common way for people to sign up for individual policies on the new health insurance marketplaces, a key part of the Affordable Care Act. The marketplaces are where many of the previously uninsured, such as part-time workers and the self-employed, can buy subsidized insurance.
When the marketplaces opened and HealthCare.gov launched on Oct. 1, the website was plagued with glitches. Most people couldn’t sign up through the site, although they could fill out paper applications or call to sign up.
The faulty website became the subject of intense scrutiny and reignited the political debate over the Affordable Care Act.
Through Nov. 2, only 271 consumers in Maine had signed up for health insurance through the federal marketplace. But by mid-November, people started telling the Portland Press Herald that they were having more success signing up on the site. By the end of November, officials were reporting vast improvements in the system.
The overall numbers and state-by-state breakdowns of how many people signed up through November will likely be released by mid-December, Hurd said.
Karen Turgeon, who oversees local navigators – people hired to help consumers sign up for health insurance – said the website has started working much better, even compared with two weeks ago. “We really are not experiencing problems anymore,” Turgeon said. “People are getting through and getting signed up.”
Another problem that’s being addressed, Hurd said, is making sure the federal government properly shares information with insurance companies after people sign up for insurance. The New York Times reported this week that even for many people who have enrolled, the information has not been copied to the insurance companies, causing confusion.
Hurd said those glitches are being worked out.
“That’s high on our punch list to correct. There’s been vast improvements already,” Hurd said.
Executives for the companies that are offering policies in Maine’s marketplace – Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and Maine Community Health Options – agreed that the problem is being solved.
“We have seen many improvements to that problem,” said Kevin Lewis, CEO of Maine Community Health Options.
The officials answered questions from people in the audience about how to sign up for insurance and other issues with the Affordable Care Act.
In addition to the health insurance marketplace, Hurd said, the law makes other improvements to the health care system, such as forbidding insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, eliminating annual caps on claims payouts and permitting adult children to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they turn 26.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: