RACINE COUNTY — National numbers on the federally run insurance marketplace aren’t out until mid-November, but locally the question “How many have enrolled online?” is easy to answer — none.
At least, that’s how many the county knows of.
Racine County officials said continued technical issues with the Affordable Care Act’s healthcare.gov site are to blame. That online insurance marketplace, the ACA’s key component, officially opened Oct. 1.
Meanwhile, organizations seeking federal certification to assist with enrollment are seeing progress, albeit slowly.
Halfway through the marketplace’s first month, “It’s just been kind of anti-climactic,” said Hope Otto, who heads in-person enrollment for the Racine County Health and Human Services Department.
The number of those seeking enrollment assistance from the county has been down, averaging about 11 people per day as of Tuesday.
Otto pins this to persistent online issues and confusion caused by the federal government shutdown — “kind of the perfect storm,” she said.
Otto expects interest will climb as the enrollment deadline nears.
The initial open enrollment period lasts until March 31, 2014. The national health care law’s coverage mandate takes effect Jan. 1; to get coverage which takes effect then, people must be enrolled by Dec. 15.
At the Racine Friendship Clubhouse, which promotes vocational rehabilitation and social integration for those diagnosed with mental illness, enrollment frustration isn’t uncommon, said Lynelle Saunders, Clubhouse executive director.
“We had a gal who came in and was totally undone by the process of trying to sign up,” she recalled.
Saunders said the woman was uninsured, distressed by the federally imposed Jan. 1 deadline for health coverage, and frustrated by her experience with the county’s paper application process.
Anxiety and other issues associated with certain mental illnesses can complicate getting through the paperwork, she said. “That’s the frustration that we’re going to run into with the population we work with, them being able to articulate their needs.”
Saunders herself is one of several hundred Racine County residents currently covered through a state-run insurance program for high-risk individuals.
That coverage terminates Jan. 1, but Saunders said given the widely reported issues with the online insurance markets, she hasn’t bothered trying to use the federal website to look at alternatives.
Those seeking government certification to assist with enrollment are seeing slow and scattered progress. On Oct. 1, nobody but the county had CAC status, the designation needed to provide one-on-one assistance.
As of Wednesday, spokespeople for Wheaton Franciscan-All Saints and the Racine Community Health Center said they’ve nearly completed the organization-wide certification process.
Racine Health Care Network Inc., which serves people at or near the poverty line, has four designated CACs planning to take their final certification test Friday, according to Barb Tylenda, Network executive director.
So far, Tylenda said in an email, the Network has about 25 people on a waiting list who they’ll call once the federal site is functional, plus 50 who said they could negotiate the system themselves or find someone to help them.
The immediate goal is to ensure online issues don’t scare people off, Tylenda said. So, the Network isn’t promoting the enrollment website just yet.
“There has been some frustration voiced from people whose attempts have been thwarted by the inoperable site and we don’t want to lose people due to that,” she wrote in an email Wednesday. “So, we’ve backed away from the heavy push and will start up again when the site is working.”
Having trouble with the online insurance marketplace? The county Health and Human Service Department’s Hope Otto said the website — www.healthcare.gov — should be working soon. “But if you don’t feel like waiting,” she said, there are options:
• Mail-in applications (available at the county’s 1717 Taylor Ave. Application and Verification Center)
• National enrollment hotline, 1-800-318-2596