Health insurance work far from over for Montanans


Health insurance work far from over for Montanans

HELENA, Mont. - The deadline to sign up for health insurance using the federal online market place website has passed. But the work for insurance companies and Montanans is far from over.

John Doran of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana said the month of March was an overall busy time for the insurance company.

"We saw a pretty big surge all the way throughout March," he said.

The company is one of three insurers providing subsidized coverage in Montana through the online marketplace.

Doran said this week they brought in extra staff to handle the last-minute rush. "To handle the walk-in traffic which we anticipated to increase, as well as the phone-in traffic."

Those phones are still ringing. That's because many people are still trying to sign up after the website was bogged down Monday.

"Well first the website was down and I can't seem to establish a user ID and password. It won't accept me," said Stevensville resident Rae Lund.

Lund will have to enroll during the grace period that's set out for people who couldn't sign up, to do in the next week or two.

But even for folks who are already signed up, Doran said there's follow-up work to do, like checking the policies and making sure people have the coverage they want.

"We will continue to help Montanans enroll in a health care plan that fits their budget and fits their needs," Doran said.

That work will continue throughout the year. The next open enrollment period begins in November 15, after elections. But before then, federal and state governments will start to analyze the data from this enrollment period.

Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Monica Lindeen said her office is still waiting on the numbers to come in. Lindeen's office gets the numbers from the federal government the same time they're distributed to the public. But when the information is released she'll be taking a close look at the data.

"To see what the pool looks like; how many young folks are in the pool, how many people who had insurance previously, or who were uninsured," Lindeen said Wednesday. "It'll be interesting to see because obviously how that pool looks will affect what rates then the insurance companies will set for next year."

At the end of February 22,500 Montanans had enrolled. Lindeen hopes the numbers released for March will meet the federal goal of 31,000 Montanans.

Doran's office is also keeping a close eye on the numbers; he said this is an exciting time.  

"We're on the ground level of history, and it's been a privilege to have a seat at the table to help steer policy and implement the new Affordable Care Act," he said.

But that excitement isn't echoed by everyone, as some are still trying to get into the system.

"The website is not accessible so I had to open up a new email address and I will be back in two weeks to see if I can't get on Obamacare," said Missoula resident Dana Parino.

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