West Virginians pick up pace of signing up for Affordable Care Act
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginians are signing up for Affordable Care Act benefits at a faster clip.
So far, 75,000 West Virginians have signed up under expanded Medicaid and about 1,200 have signed up through the federal insurance marketplace, officials shared in an insurance stakeholders meeting.
Although a few problems persist, insurance officials said many of the bugs in the federal marketplace have been fixed.
Officials shared information about enrollment progress under the Affordable Care Act in Tuesday's insurance stakeholders meeting. This meeting, which gathers consumer and provider groups, is part of a series of monthly meetings that have been going on for the past two years.
Tuesday's meeting was scheduled to be the last one but officials decided to continue having them, scheduling a conference call next month and a face-to-face meeting in February.
Fred Earley, Highmark's president, broke down enrollment progress through the federal exchange in two phases-front end and back end.
Earley explained problems at the front-end included people who were not able to sign up or even get through the system. Now, he said people are able to set up accounts and get through.
This could explain the low number of West Virginians signing up under the exchange. According to a news release from Highmark, 1,237 West Virginians have signed up so far.
"Enrollment is down but has been significantly increasing since the site is working better," explained Ellen Potter, director of health policy at the West Virginia Offices of Insurance Commissioner.
In the meeting, Earley estimated this number represents less than 10 percent of the projected number. Officials originally thought around 15-20,000 people would sign up, he said. Half of these signups have occurred in the past couple of weeks, however.
However, Highmark explained in the news release that it has seen "incremental improvement" in enrollment numbers in the last month.
Back end problems deal with the error rate in the information sent to West Virginia's sole insurance provider, such as the type of plan purchased and if they are eligible for subsidies. Earley said the error rate, which is a system error, has gone down from 25 percent to 10 percent.
"What we're seeing is front end functionality is much better. They continue to add and enhance that," Earley said. "We still see errors on the back end with a 10 percent error rate. That's a national rate and we are consistent with that. Information flows through to us but it's not 100 percent accurate."
Medicaid numbers are much better and actually have exceeded projections.
Potter explained officials were expecting 63,000 people to enroll under expanded Medicaid by the end of 2014. However, 75,000 have signed up.
The Department of Health and Human Resources estimated 118,000 West Virginians qualified under Medicaid expansion, explained Perry Bryant, executive director of the West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.
In an interview after the meeting, Bryant said the DHHR sent out letters to these people and local DHHR employees made followup calls to see if they were qualified.
"It's been a lot of work but the real heroes are the DHHR employees who made those phone calls," said Perry Bryant, executive director of the West Virginians for Affordable Health Care. "That's what made it successful."
A few problems have persisted, however. Potter explained the federal system was designed where the state could upload information directly to the federal marketplace. Although the information has been sent to the federal marketplace, it's waiting to be uploaded.
"Instead of automatically transferring info where people can create their accounts and shop for insurance, the federal government hasn't been able to upload that yet," she explained.
Potter said 6,500 people were notified Monday their information wasn't transferred. She said people can go to healthcare.gov or go to an assistant for help.
In the past, many people were wrongly deemed eligible for Medicaid but didn't find out until they went to a local Department of Health and Human Resources office and found out their income was too high. This problem has been fixed, however.
And now, Potter said a recent fix allows people to go into their application and change it.
"Fixes in November allow them to go into their current account, delete an application and make a new one," she said.
Officials also discussed instances where people must watch out for non-registered limited benefit plans.
Dena Wildman, health complaint specialist supervisor at the West Virginia Offices of Insurance Commissioner said some people saw ads online or were called by people saying new benefits were available to them because of the Affordable Care Act.
"Some of the programs are scams; however, some are licensed to offer with the discount," she said, noting some made it sound like they were getting more coverage than they were.
Wildman said these limited benefits plans typically have a set schedule of benefits and covers a low amount for certain medical services. She said if they are designed as limited, then the plans are classified as an excepted benefits program under the health care law.
"Some discount programs are registered but some are not," Wildman told officials in the meeting. "Unfortunately, they have already submitted their banking info when they call us."