The federal government launched its first-ever health insurance marketplace this week, but it’s still unclear how many South Carolinians have been able to actually sign up for a policy on www.healthcare.gov.
Patti Embry-Tautenhan, a spokeswoman for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, the state’s largest private insurer, said on Friday that the company had sold zero policies through the new marketplace.
“They can’t get on to healthcare.gov. Nobody can,” Embry-Tautenhan said.
A spokeswoman for Consumer’s Choice Health Plan, an insurance cooperative that is also offering plans for South Carolina residents to purchase through healthcare.gov, said the group had sold some plans through the marketplace, but could not provide that exact number or even an estimate.
Messages placed Friday to Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas, a third company offering plans through the website, have not been returned.
But problems with healthcare.gov haven’t been unique to South Carolina.
On Tuesday, the first day the government opened the marketplace for business, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services blamed the sheer volume of traffic for website glitches.
More than two million people across the country tried to access the website between midnight and 3 p.m. that day. The department would not provide any information about how many people in South Carolina tried to sign on or how many successfully enrolled in a plan.
A series of error messages indicated the website struggled to load pages and create accounts for new users earlier this week. Many users complained about problems researching their insurance options even after they had created accounts.
But issues with the website have continued to persist through the week. On Friday, attempts to log into the marketplace generated the following message: “We’re working to make the experience better, and we don’t want you to lose your place in line. We’ll send you to the login page as soon as we can. Thanks for your patience!”
There’s no real rush, though.
Enrollment through the marketplace is open for six months until March 31. Most South Carolinians won’t need to bother using it anyway because they already carry insurance cards.
“This is the first week of a several month process,” Embry-Tautenhaun said.
The website was designed for the uninsured to shop for an plan to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act. Anyone can use the website to buy insurance, but more than 80 percent of residents in the state are already insured and already comply with the law’s new mandate that nearly everyone purchase a policy.
Jim Ritchie, the executive director of the S.C. Alliance of Health Plans, said he expects some of the marketplace’s issues will be resolved soon, but predicted the federal government may need to extend open enrollment beyond March.
“Within the industry … it was clearly understood that the system was not ready,” Ritchie said. “The timeline was unrealistic.”
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.