Fred Mogul, Reporter, WNYC News
Fred Mogul has been covering healthcare and medicine for WNYC since 2002.
The rollout of the health insurance exchanges at the heart of the Affordable Care Act is starting to gain momentum in New York, but progress continues to be slow in New Jersey.
“We’re pretty excited,” said Elisabeth Benjamin, from the Community Service Society. “We’re enrolling people here – and the phones are ringing off the hook.”
The Community Service Society is one of the area’s main federally funded navigator organizations, helping people apply for coverage with the New York State of Health insurance marketplace.
Other navigators in New York have not been so lucky. The Morris Heights Health Center in the Bronx says it’s still waiting to receive grant-funded computers that were ordered weeks ago. These terminals and laptops will allow people who come in to apply to type in their own information, while they’re getting help from navigators – but without needing to disclose potentially sensitive things like Social Security numbers to these assistors.
And even Benjamin, a staunch supporter of the Affordable Care Act, said enrollment at her organization has not been without snags. She said there were problems uploading income information to get verification from the IRS – a process that had been working earlier in the week.
“The marketplace [technology department] is on it, and they expect to have it corrected, and we don’t think it’s a permanent phenomenon at all,” Benjamin said.
In New Jersey, enrollment continues to be much harder.
Governor Christie vetoed the legislature’s attempt to create a state exchange, so New Jersey is one of roughly three dozen states relying on Healthcare.gov, the federal system that has been consistently overwhelmed since debuting on October 1. Nationwide, millions of people have tried to get on this exchange, but relatively few people have been able to log in, create accounts, examine different insurance plans and enroll in one.
Even in New York, people have reported ongoing problems logging in to create accounts and purchase coverage, with some of them saying they’ve only gotten through after repeated tries.
The New York exchange still is not synched with the insurance plans, so applicants need to contact each insurer individually to find out exact benefits, including which doctors and hospitals are in-network. A state Health Department official says that problem will be fixed “in a number of days.”