PARKERSBURG, W.Va. – The president of West Virginia Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield said Thursday he’s disappointed with the numbers from the first month sign-ups for the Affordable Care Act. Only 198 West Virginians successfully navigated healthcare.gov to sign up with Highmark in the health insurance exchange.
“That number is significantly below what we had anticipated to be coming in to this point in time. I think the problems at this stage with the functionality of the exchange website has played a crucial role in that,” explained Fred Early.
The website has caused a lot of frustration for those trying to find an insurance policy on the marketplace. Early stressed that is bad for business.
“It is troubling. Our concern is that, with the difficulties that people are facing with it, people are going to get frustrated and go away from it.”
President Obama has promised the site will be vastly improved by the end of the month. Perry Bryant with West Virginians for Affordable Health Care says that is critical.
“That’s a lot later than I would like. That’s really a disappointment,” stated Bryant. But he stressed you can’t delay putting off implementation for another year because it will ultimately undermine the success of the program.
“Delaying the individual responsibilities for a year just compounds the adverse selection. It takes away one of the legs of that stool of getting people enrolled,” said Bryant.
Early is hoping the fix works so West Virginians can start signing up via healthcare.gov en mass. The Highmark executive said that is key in order to have a marketplace that works.
“We need to get a robust pool of people to sign up on the marketplace,” explained Early. “That includes more than just those who have significant health conditions that are going to be high cost utilizers. You need to have young and healthy people in the pool as well in order to stabilize the pool and keep rates setting.”
Earlier this month, 8,000 current Highmark policy holders received letters saying their policies with the company did not meet specific regulations under the ACA. That means they’ll have to sign up for a new policy that does qualify. Early stressed those customers do have a buffer period.
“We have given them the option to renew their policies in December and continue those policies up to a year beyond that if they so choose.” Early said. “It’s strictly at their choice.”
Once 2015 arrives, those policy holders would have to sign-up for an ACA-approved plan.
The deadline to sign up on healthcare.gov in order for a policy to be in place by the first of the year and avoid a penalty, is Dec. 15. Early said they are expecting more people to hop back on the website in the coming weeks to make that deadline.
“We can still get all the people in if they exercise patience and some diligence to go back in. So I think we’ll still be alright,” according to Early. “But we need to get the enrollment much more robust than it is today.”
Highmark is currently the only insurance provider in the state’s marketplace.