DES MOINES — The troubled federal insurance enrollment website and uncertainty over Medicaid expansion have been bumpy for President Barack Obama's health care law in Iowa.
Now, with weeks to go before the expanded insurance part of the law goes into effect, those issues have largely been resolved, though questions remain about if the state is ready.
Starting Jan. 1, some new provisions of the 2010 health law go into effect, including insurance coverage for those who signed up for private plans on the federal enrollment website. The state's modified Medicaid expansion — which uses federal dollars to offer coverage to some low-income Iowans — has been granted federal approval and will also begin that day.
But a key question in Iowa is whether all the people seeking coverage can get enrolled in plans, or on Medicaid, by the beginning of January. The enrollment process has been beset by glitches with the federal marketplace website, which is being used by 36 states, including Iowa. Administration officials promised to improve the site by the end of November, and it does appear to be working better.
“It's going better. I don't know if I can say it's going well,” said Iowa Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart, a Republican.
According to data released by the federal government last week, about 25,000 state residents applied for coverage on the federal website in October and November. Of them, 757 have enrolled in private health insurance plans and an additional 7,832 have been deemed eligible for Medicaid or another state program.
Gerhart emphasized that uninsured people who want coverage to start at the beginning of January must sign up for private plans by Dec. 23. He recommended getting help, if needed.
“Talk to somebody who can help you. Talk to a navigator, talk to your agent,” Gerhart said, adding that people need to think about what kind of coverage they require. “Is your doctor in the network? Are the drugs you need?”
Cliff Gold, chief operating officer at CoOportunity Health, which is offering insurance plans for Iowa in the marketplace, said enrollments skyrocketed in early December, suggesting the process is speeding up.
“We're definitely seeing those enrollments going up,” said Gold, noting that CoOpportunity had 344 enrollments in October and November and that the overall enrollment number climbed to 685 in the first week of December.
Those in the field said interest is growing as the end of the month nears.
Betty Spratt, supervisor of financial counseling at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines, said 12 staffers who help people with insurance applications have been inundated recently.
“We've been 'standing room only' the last few weeks or so,” said Spratt, who noted that the website is working better, though there are still occasionally problems. “I've been hearing more positive things from the counselors getting online.”
People can sign up in the marketplace through March 31, and Medicaid enrollment is possible year-round.
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