Glitches remain with federal health coverage site

Michelle l. Price, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- It's still unclear how many Utah residents have signed up for coverage on the online federal marketplace, but they're certainly interested, health overhaul experts told lawmakers Thursday.

The insurance marketplaces are a key component of President Barack Obama's health care law, which requires almost all Americans to have health coverage starting next year.

Ideally, consumers who are shopping for health insurance plans should be able to compare available plans on the websites and seamlessly sign up for coverage.

But since their Oct. 1 launch, the federally-run websites have been plagued by glitches and delays.

Randal Serr, director of health care outreach and advocacy organization Take Care Utah, told members of the state's Health System Reform Task Force that his group too is unsure how many people have signed up.

"We test it every day. It's getting better every day," Serr said. "It's definitely not as user friendly as we think it should be."

Take Care Utah is one of several groups that received federal grants to help people learn about the new health law and sign up for coverage.

One of the hang-ups of the federal website was a requirement to set up a user account before viewing the plans, but Serr said Thursday that officials have created a workaround.

Consumers can now browse plans without setting up an account, Serr said, but they still need to create an account to sign up.

Despite the roadblocks, Serr said his group is receiving 10 to 20 phone calls a day from people with questions about the law or seeking help in signing up for coverage.

Take Care Utah and other organizations have also been delayed in getting people certified to help people enroll in coverage or navigate their choices.

Those counselors and "navigators" are required to have insurance and undergo background checks, which has taken longer than anticipated, Serr said.

Take Care Utah has only two fully licensed navigators, but hopes to have 15 or 16.

Tyler Fisher, a programming director with the Utah Aids Foundation, said his organization is in the final stage of licensing and fingerprinting staff to become trained navigators.

Leanna VanKeuren, with the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake, said her organization too is still working to get three navigators certified.

Serr said once everyone is licensed and the website is fully operational, "Then things will start clicking."