Published On: Fri, Dec 13th, 2013

The Health Care Marketplace: A rocky start and frustrated customers

News from DC

By Senator Jay Rockefeller

On Oct. 1, West Virginia’s Health Insurance Marketplace opened to consumers. This was a long-awaited day for those people and families who had gone for so long without health insurance. This was supposed to be the day when those thousands of West Virginians, who hadn’t been able to obtain coverage because of high costs or an insurer’s refusal to offer coverage because of a pre-existing condition, could finally get the peace of mind that comes with having good health care coverage.

But soon after the Marketplace opened, feedback from consumers about the Marketplace piled into my office at a frantic pace, and hardly any of it was positive. It is well-known now that the federally run website, on which our West Virginia Marketplace depends, launched despite being full of glitches, which caused users to get kicked off or prevented them from even loading the website on their browser.

Simply put, because of the website issues, not only were West Virginians unable to sign up for coverage but the failed start jeopardized what we worked so hard to prove we could create: a health care system that is accessible and delivers quality, affordable health care to millions of Americans.

As someone who helped write, pass and continues to believe in the objectives of the Affordable Care Act, I’ve been deeply frustrated by some aspects of the rollout of the law. It’s been upsetting to hear stories of West Virginians who have been caught in limbo as they try to sign up for the coverage they need.

I will be the first to acknowledge that the problems with the federal website have been more than hiccups, or bumps in the road. These were systemic problems that are only now getting worked out. The good news is that while frustrating, the technical issues on the website aren’t permanent. They’re being identified and fixed, and importantly, they aren’t indicative of permanent flaws to the health care system.

Overall, I’m proud of the Affordable Care Act and what it is intended to do for people, but the goals of the law won’t mean anything if we can’t get the law to work in practice. West Virginians have never shied away from a challenge. True to that spirit, I refuse to let recent technical problems or opposition get in the way of insuring thousands in our state. We can’t allow short-term problems and frustrations to undermine the long-term benefits of the health reform law.

Earlier this year, I supported Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s decision to insure thousands more West Virginians by expanding Medicaid, a safety-net program that provides critical care for our most vulnerable families. I’m happy to report that, thanks to our Governor’s bold decision, the great staff at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, and our state’s well-functioning Medicaid enrollment website, www.wvinroads.org, West Virginia has already reduced the number of uninsured by 25 percent in only two months.

I want West Virginians to know that they are not on their own through the enrollment period. There are people trained and certified to help you understand your health coverage options and enroll in a plan including, navigators, in-person assisters (IPAs), and certified application counselors (CACs). You can view a map of trained and certified people to help you at the West Virginia Insurance Commission Health Reform County Help or call the main Marketplace number at (800) 318-2596. And, as always, my office is available to help in any way it can.

While the past few weeks have been an extremely frustrating time for consumers, I continue to believe that we’ll be on the path forward toward achieving the greater goal of insuring thousands of uninsured West Virginians and millions of Americans nationwide.