Shopping for insurance

The federal government’s online health insurance marketplace isn’t working for everyone, but some people — it’s not clear how many — have been able to successfully sign on and purchase a policy.

If you think you might qualify for a subsidy to help pay for health insurance, or want to purchase a policy available through the marketplace, visit healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596.

Loreen Myerson’s voice is calm and steady. She speaks slowly too, like she’s thinking about how best to say each sentence before she actually says it.

Read more

For more of The Post and Courier’s past coverage of the Affordable Care Act, visit our online health care guide, postandcourier.com/obamacare.

The site includes a calculator to determine if you qualify for a subsidy to help pay for insurance, and a state-by-state look at health care reform.

This seems odd considering that she spends most of her time these days talking about the Affordable Care Act — legislation that usually elicits fiery, impassioned responses across the political spectrum. “Obamacare,” more than three years after it was signed into law, is still controversial.

From the experts

“To be honest, it’s working well for some people now. ... We’re working 24/7 to make sure everybody has that experience.”

Anton Gunn, director of external affairs in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

“The system hasn’t really worked and our citizens are frustrated that they are unable to get in and sign up online. I’m not so sure how many people have successfully signed up online — if any.”

Ray Farmer, director of the S.C. Department of Insurance

“I’m listening to people every day saying, ‘I don’t have insurance.’ ... Everybody wants to have insurance. They really, really want it.”

Virginia King, community affairs manager, Fetter Health Care Network

“There is a level of disappointment. All of us wanted this to be perfect on day one, but the fact is that is an unrealistic expectation. There’s such a strong demand for people to be able to get decent health coverage at a price they can afford — people all over the country have just swarmed the website.”

Loreen Myerson, trained Affordable Care Act navigator

Myerson isn’t a politician. As a trained Affordable Care Act navigator, her job isn’t to debate the pros and cons of health care reform, but to explain in the simplest terms to everyday South Carolinians how this complicated law will impact their lives.

Download application

Download a paper application for health coverage at postandcourier.com or through the federal government’s online health insurance marketplace.

Fill it out, then mail in the paper application and the federal government will send a packet of information about which insurance policies and subsidies you may qualify for to help pay for the coverage.

She’s also available to help them sign up for an insurance policy — and at least for now is going low-tech to do so.

Other issues

HealthCare.gov isn’t Obamacare’s only problem these days.

Critics of the Affordable Care Act are drawing attention to other potential issues, too, including:

Cancellations

Some policyholders have been notified by insurers in recent weeks that their current coverage will be canceled because their plans don’t meet the requirements of the law.

Narrower networks

Many plans on the individual insurance market starting Jan. 1 will have much narrower provider networks. This could make it more difficult for policyholders to see their preferred doctors or seek treatment at their preferred hospital.

Exactly one month into open enrollment, Myerson said, “I would say I’ve started the application process with 20 people so far — or 20 families, I should say.”

Navigating the marketplace

Trained Affordable Care Act navigator Loreen Myerson will host information sessions about the health care law from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 8 in the “Market Street area.”

To make an appointment, call 475-2859.

That number likely would be higher if HealthCare.gov, the online platform designed to enroll millions of Americans in a health plan over the Internet, was working like it was supposed to.

“There is a level of disappointment,” said Myerson, who works with clients in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties. She was hired as a navigator with federal grant money through a Columbia-based nonprofit group. Her services are free for all clients.

“All of us wanted this (website) to be perfect on day one, but the fact is that is an unrealistic expectation.”

When the federal government’s online health insurance marketplace launched on Oct. 1, it was supposed to be one of the Affordable Care Act’s crowning achievements — a one-stop-shop for health insurance with built-in discounts for many lower-to-middle income consumers who need help to pay for a plan.

But error messages and high traffic volume — in other words, a lot of people trying to sign on at one time — plagued the website on the first day.

And it turns out these weren’t mere first-day glitches. HealthCare.gov is widely considered a disaster to date.

But the website isn’t the Affordable Care Act’s only problem these days. Critics have also recently drawn attention to the fact that insurers are now notifying some policyholders that their plans will be discontinued if they don’t comply with the law’s basic requirements.

“One month into Obamacare and we are now sadly confirming what the majority of South Carolinians have suspected all along — that Obamacare isn’t free — it’s being funded by higher premiums and deductibles and less available health care options,” said Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley.

The website, at least, will be fixed eventually, but even the Obama administration said that will take another month.

“To be honest, it’s working well for some people now,” said Anton Gunn, director of external affairs in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Gunn is also a former South Carolina legislator. “We’re working 24/7 to make sure everybody has that experience.”

The federal government has not released any enrollment data yet, and is not expected to say how many residents have been able to successfully purchase a policy until at least mid-November.

“I’m not so sure how many people have successfully signed up online — if any,” said S.C. Department of Insurance Director Ray Farmer. “I understand that there’s been a few consumers who have been able to sign up over the telephone or by paper. I think that number is less than 250.”

Myerson carries around several copies of the paper application, a long form and the short form, because helping clients apply over the phone or fill out and mail in a paper application is easier than trying to struggle with a website that yields inconsistent results.

“They’re busy people,” she said. “It better to go directly to something that I know is going to work.”

These are only short-term problems, though, she said.

Enrollment through healthcare.gov is open for five more months. Residents can sign up for a plan through March 31 to avoid paying a penalty under the law.

“The Affordable Care Act is about so much more than a website,” Myerson said. “If the website isn’t working for folks, we are extremely capable of signing them up on paper, over the telephone, just like folks did back when we didn’t have websites.”

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.