State health exchange bugs are being worked out
September 13, 2013
Programmers and administrators are working overtime to iron out kinks in Nevada's online health insurance exchange system before it opens for enrollment in about two weeks.
Officials with the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange told board members Thursday that testing has been a challenge and is behind schedule.
Because of that, they are focusing on fixing glitches that could hinder core functionality, leaving less-urgent problems for later.
"Our priority is the consumer experience," Jon Hager, executive director of the exchange, told the board.
Nevada's exchange has been two years in the making to prepare for implementation of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which requires everyone to have health insurance by Jan. 1 or face a penalty.
"It's not going to be perfect," exchange spokesman CJ Bawden said Friday.
Computer delays and pages that won't load could be an issue and cause frustration for users.
Worse would be if information is incorrectly calculated.
There are a lot of moving parts, even in a techno world, that need to hum in unison. The state exchange website, called Nevada Health Link, will synch with a federal hub with data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Social Security Administration and Internal Revenue Service to verify citizenship status and income.
The website, http://www.nevadahealthlink.com, must also jibe with and state databases and direct users to appropriate pages in the application process based on answers to online questions.
It's supposed to be a convenient, one-stop-shopping portal, a place where people can compare and buy insurance policies, be directed to Medicaid or other services for the poor if they qualify, and have federal subsidies calculated if income thresholds are met.
Getting all those bits and bytes in sync is sometimes a game of Whack-a-Mole, as solving one glitch creates another.
Not all functions of the system will be available Oct. 1, when the program goes live and open enrollment begins.
A Spanish-language portal is being pushed back until mid-November, but a phone number will be listed for those users to call for assistance. Other functions to filter plans by cost, prescriptions or providers also will be delayed.
Nevada also has postponed until November an aggressive television ad campaign that was supposed to be launched in October urging people to go to the website to sign up. Officials don't want to overload the system, so are hoping for a "soft" launch initially.
"That will give us a little bit more time to make sure bugs are fixed," Bawden said.
Consumers also may want more time to review details of specific plans offered on the exchange, such as network providers, which won't be available until Oct. 1.
State Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp, who got his first look at the process during a live demonstration Thursday, said the program overall was a good one, but predicted consumers will need help figuring it out.
"It looks like a lot of hand-holding is going to be needed," he said.
To that end, the exchange is rushing to train so-called navigators, assisters and private insurance brokers on how to use the program so they can assist others.