DENVER (AP) – More than two years after Colorado decided to set up a state marketplace to help people shop for health insurance and comply with new coverage mandates, the system is ready for an Oct. 1 launch.
Well, it’s mostly ready.
Colorado’s 700,000 or so people without health insurance can start shopping Tuesday on Connect For Health Colorado, a website to help folks find insurance plans to meet the federal health-insurance mandate. Television ads promoting the new site describe it as a place where health insurers compete, giving consumers a new edge in finding health coverage.
But the website won’t be fully operational Tuesday. People with incomes that qualify them for federal subsidies to help offset premiums won’t be able to complete the applications for aid online. Exchange officials recently announced that the site won’t be ready to handle that on its own by Oct. 1. Customers can still get the subsidies, but not without calling for assistance for at least the first month.
A spokesman for the exchange, Ben Davis, downplayed the glitch as minor and pointed out that the state has hired 180 people to man a call center in Colorado Springs to help people navigate the purchase. He said the glitch should be fixed within a month, and that customers have until the end of the year to get insurance.
“Really on almost every front we are feeling prepared,” said Davis, who noted the online subsidy process simply needed a little extra testing.
Even critics of the Colorado exchange don’t consider the glitch a big hang-up.
Dr. Michael Fallon, a Republican emergency-room physician who serves on Connect For Health’s board and generally opposes the new health law, said he didn’t anticipate customers would face big hurdles signing up for insurance when shopping begins.
“We are ready to go,” Fallon said. “It will not have all the bells and whistles people hoped for originally, but the essential elements will be there.”
No one knows what kind of numbers to expect when shopping begins Tuesday. Connect For Health board members are hoping for 130,000 to 135,000 customers the first year, a rough projection based on the pattern in Massachusetts, the only state with a current insurance mandate. Exchange managers doubt that many of those will start shopping the very first day.
One wrinkle that could make Tuesday a busy one for the call-center employees – unsigned emails circulating in conservative circles encouraging critics of the health law to flood call centers with bogus calls, hoping to bog down the system. Fallon said he received an email like that and hopes people don’t follow through, even if they hate the new health law.
“I found that very unhelpful,” Fallon said. “All it would do is drive up cost for the government. If people don’t like (the health law) they need to go about it with new legislation to change it.”
Fallon and Davis agreed that Tuesday likely won’t overwhelm the new exchange. Both predicted heavy traffic of people checking out the site and seeing what their premiums would be, but few finishing their shopping on the first day of the new system.
“I don’t know how to predict demand other than to say we’re as ready as we can be,” Davis said.
LET THE SHOPPING BEGIN
Here it is – the big reveal for the new health care law. Colorado’s health insurance marketplace goes live Tuesday. Individuals and small-business owners who need to buy health coverage by the end of the year can start searching for plans, reviewing premiums and signing up for government subsidies to help with the cost.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
Start at http://www.connectforhealthco.com . Click the “Let Us Help” tab to watch videos introducing the marketplace, calculators to estimate your payments and get a personal shopping assistant to walk you through your options.
PICK A COVERAGE LEVEL
The exchange will ask customers whether they want a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum plan. Those are fancy titles to shorthand levels of coverage. Bronze plans are the cheapest, but come with the highest out-of-pocket costs for consumers. Platinum plans generally have the highest monthly premiums, but cover more.
WHY USE THE EXCHANGE?
There’s no requirement to use Connect For Health to meet the looming coverage mandate. But the state exchange is the only place to get government subsidies to defray your costs. In other words, if you’re not rich, you’ll want to use the exchange.
Health insurance shopping begins Tuesday, but customers have until the end of the year to get health insurance. Even if shoppers buy a plan Tuesday, coverage won’t begin until 2014, so there’s no advantage to buying a plan on Day One.
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
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