TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Glitches persisted Thursday for Kansas residents hoping to find affordable health insurance through a new, federally run online marketplace, but at least a few of them were taking delays in stride.
Gary Hutley, a 46-year-old Topeka resident, shrugged in assessing the frustration involved in spending 45 minutes on a computer at the Topeka public library and not coming away with the new identification he’d need to begin shopping. He installs audio electronics but joked that his experience was, “for me and computers, about normal.”
The online marketplace for Kansas, like exchanges in the other states, is a key part of the federal overhaul of health care championed by President Barack Obama. The federal government is running the exchange for Kansas because most Republican officials in its GOP-dominated state government view the Democratic president’s signature domestic initiative as deeply flawed and have resisted state involvement.
With the exchange open Thursday for its third day, consumers still faced some of the same delays in even getting into the marketplace that were present in its opening hours. Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger’s office continued urging people to wait several weeks.
Hutley is eager to shop in online marketplace, despite his own misgivings about the 2010 health care law, which he thinks went too far in overhauling health care. He’s looking to cover only himself, and he’s now paying $450 a month and, absent a change, expects that cost to rise to $550 in six months. Earlier this year, he broke eight bones in a motorcycle wreck and found himself unable to work for three months.
“My goal is just simply to get cheaper insurance,” he said.
The Topeka library opened its computer training center for three hours to people wanting to buy coverage through the exchange. Two trained “navigators” from the local health department were available to help. The library is planning seven such sessions through Nov. 8.
State and federal officials haven’t released any figures for how many Kansas residents have enrolled in health plans through the exchange.
“It’s still hit and miss,” said Paige Ashley, one of the navigators. “It seems like every day, you get farther and farther into the system.”
The health care law requires most Americans to buy insurance or face a tax penalty, starting next year. Consumers have until Dec. 15 to enroll in a qualified plan if they want the coverage to start Jan. 1, 2014.
Hutley made it to the marketplace’s page for setting up his ID; he answered security questions but not go further. Nearby, Lover Chancler, a 41-year-old Topeka resident and graduate teaching assistant in family studies at Kansas State University, hadn’t even gotten that far after an hour.
“I wasn’t sure exactly how the system would work,” she said. “I have a lot of relatives who have already called and said, ‘You need to sign me up for that health insurance,’ and so I figured I’d better learn how to do it.”
Chancler said she’s also interested in finding insurance for herself because her coverage lapses between semesters.
She was forgiving about waiting, figuring the problems were being caused by high interest in the exchange. She also compared the delays to those experienced by Kansans in renewing vehicle registrations last year as the state rolled out its own computer upgrade.
“You can test it all you want, but until you use it on several thousand people at one time, you don’t know whether or not it’s going to work,” Chancler said.
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