Few NC residents able to enroll as healthcare website problems persist

jmurawski@newsobserver.com kgarloch@charlotteobserver.comNovember 12, 2013 

Denise Dunn is one of the lucky ones. She’s one of just a handful of Triangle residents who have successfully applied for subsidized insurance on the crash-prone federal enrollment site.

After subsidies, her premium payment will amount to $12.53 a month, she said.

“It was one attempt,” said Dunn, a 45-year-old filing clerk. “We started it, and it went all the way through.”

Dunn is now in the minority of insurance shoppers across the country who have successfully enrolled for subsidized insurance under the new federal health care law. Between 40,000 and 50,000 people enrolled in October in the 36 states – including North Carolina – where the federal government is running the website, according to preliminary estimates.

The Obama administration is expected to release official enrollment numbers this week after weeks of software malfunctions that have rendered the federal website inoperable for millions of Americans.

North Carolina insurance agents and trained navigators say the website has improved since enrollment started Oct. 1, when the site was inaccessible. More people have been able to get far enough to compare different plans and verify their eligibility for premium subsidies.

But reports of people who have actually purchased insurance at healthcare.gov are still spotty and anecdotal.

Dunn won’t be officially enrolled until she receives her confirmation by mail and sends her first payment to Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

She currently pays Blue Cross $244 a month for an individual policy that she has had since 2006. For the past year and a half, she has been working part time as a filing clerk at the Durham County Courthouse and estimates she makes about $12,000 a year.

On the federal site, she compared two Blue Cross policies and one from Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas. Coventry’s had the lowest monthly premiums but did not include her doctor in its first-tier network.

Others have also advanced well into the federal application system but didn’t apply because they were not ready to make a selection or because the system seized up.

Terri Fisher estimates she made about 20 attempts to create an online account and obtain an ID number on the federal enrollment website for subsidized insurance.

Then one Saturday night, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield TV commercial reminded her to try one more time. After countless failed attempts, the system finally worked, and Fisher filled out her application without a hitch.

But it did not allow her to complete her selection.

“Once you get in, it’s super easy,” said Fisher, 48, a Raleigh hair stylist. “The longest part is picking out the plan you want.”

Fisher is a single woman with an income of about $15,000, qualifying her for a monthly subsidy of $322. After comparing her coverage options for about 45 minutes, she chose a gold-rated plan from Blue Cross with a premium of $452 and an annual deductible of $4,000.

After her subsidy, her premium will be $130 a month, she said. She last had insurance two years ago and paid $338 a month for a plan with a deductible of $7,500.

She’s waiting to hear back from a Blue Cross representative on the status of her application.

“I was ready to pay for it right then,” she said. “I wanted it set in stone.”

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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