By JIMMY LAWTON
CANTON -- St. Lawrence County’s state Health Exchange navigators are facing a variety of problems as they help people shop for health insurance, but say the kinks will be worked out soon.
At the St. Lawrence Health Initiative, navigator Anne Marie Snell has been certified since August and is helping people log into the New York Health Exchange so they can shop for insurance.
Having worked with several people already Snell said she has encountered some problems, but nothing that has been crippling. She said problems have stemmed from the identification confirmations. In some cases, documents had to be scanned and uploaded for verification.
Meanwhile, St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Insurance Administrator Suzanne Casaday, is one of several other people certified in the county to help people navigate the new insurance exchange. But she only finished her training on Oct. 10 and has not yet been entered into the state system as a “certified producer,” even though the health exchange went online Oct. 1.
Casaday said she is able to field questions through phone calls, but has limited experience using the Health Exchange website at this point.
‘Little Blue Box’
Snell said another issue that has popped up is a “little blue box” that must be checked if people want financial assistance. She said failing to check the box will allow people to sign up without receiving the subsidies they are entitled to.
“We have run into little issues, but we are at the very beginning of an enormous undertaking,” she said. “Things will get better and adjustments will be made. The good news is that a lot of people who slipped through the cracks and went without insurance are going to have the opportunity for affordable coverage.”
Casaday said the exchange opened Oct. 1, before many of the navigators had been trained. The “certified producers” like Casaday are allowed more access to the website than a regular subscriber, but she has not been granted that clearance yet. Their information is also added to the website, so that people can track down help.
“I have passed the certification exam and waiting on the state to process that information,” she said. “Right now, I only have the same access to the system that any user would have,” she said.
Casaday said it is unfortunate the training was not done prior to the launch, but expects things will get better.
“We are really just getting our feet wet, but we will be in full swing soon” she said.
Another issue facing the health exchange is the high traffic.
Reports from the state say more than 40,000 people have signed up for the New York State Health Exchange, but not all have purchased insurance yet. The number of St. Lawrence County residents who have shopped on the exchange was not available.
“There is such a large number of people going on to it that it is overloading the system,” she said. “I know that is supposed to be getting better. They have been adding serves to improve the capacity,” she said.
Casaday said there many residents in St. Lawrence County have called the chamber for help with the exchange.
“We have gotten over 50 calls about the upcoming changes. People are waiting until we have the 2014 info from the insurance carriers to compare on the exchange and off exchange products before deciding which is bet for their needs,” Casaday said. “All insurance coverage will take effect on Jan. 1 and there is still time to compare, decide and apply.”
The good news is that despite kinks on the website and delayed training help is still available.
“Regardless if they can log in or not, we can help people. We can answer questions and we can help them sign up,” she said.
The Health Initiative has already scheduled more than 80 appointments since the exchange launched and there seems to be a continued interest from St. Lawrence County residents.
Snell said her office has been busy meeting the demand, which has exceeded her expectations.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but we have been a little overwhelmed with phone calls,” she said. “But that is a good thing, that is what we are here for,” she said.
Snell said its important for people to remember that the website has only been up for 11 days and people can sign up as late at Dec. 13 and still receive coverage beginning Jan. 1. They can also enroll as late March and still receive coverage in 2014,
“There is plenty of time for the kinks to be worked out. The open enrollment is six months,” she said.