Health News Glitches Still Dog Online Health Exchanges By Karen Pallarito
HealthDay Reporter

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THURSDAY, Oct. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Problems navigating the new federal and state computer-based health insurance exchanges spilled into a third day Thursday.

Consumers in many parts of the United States encountered online bottlenecks while trying to price health plans and enroll in coverage.

HealthCare.Gov, the federal government website serving people in 36 states, posted a message thanking users for their patience while they waited in a virtual queue to log into the system.

The exchanges opened for business on Tuesday. They are a key component of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration's broad yet controversial health-reform package designed to bring insurance to tens of millions of Americans who lack coverage.

The exchanges' debut has been marked by computer glitches and long wait times.

Minnesota's health exchange, called MNsure, got off to a bumpy start Tuesday, including a server crash when the site went live. But by Wednesday afternoon, more than 2,500 insurance accounts had been created, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

Although Vermont's exchange was sluggish on Wednesday amid heavy traffic, staff members were working to speed up the website, according to an Associated Press report.

The upside to the glitches, according to health-reform advocates, is that there seems to be strong demand for health insurance among the uninsured.

The federal government has yet to release enrollment numbers, so it's unclear whether the online traffic jams have resulted in many sales of insurance policies.

Kathryn Gaglione, manager of public relations at the National Association of Health Underwriters, said health insurance agents and brokers were dealing with delays getting online just as much as consumers.

"We know it's frustrating for everyone," she said.

While the slowdown may have squelched sales to a certain extent, Gaglione noted that the exchanges have only been open for less than three days. "Overall, it's more than likely that the same amount of policies will be sold, just not in the first week," she said.

The conservative think tank American Action Forum released an analysis Wednesday that said premium rates for young adults in 44 states would more than double, and possibly triple, in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, compared with 2013 rates.

Premiums for the lowest-priced coverage available this year, averaging $62 a month, would rise to $187 a month in 2014, a 202 percent increase. A healthy 30-year-old male nonsmoker could see a 260 percent spike in the lowest-cost insurance option, the analysis contended.

The probability of "young invincibles" complying with the government's individual mandate "appears fairly low," the report concluded.

But Sara Collins, vice president for affordable health insurance at The Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based health foundation, said the American Action Forum report doesn't provide a complete picture because health plans available on the exchanges are more comprehensive than some plans on the market today.

What's more, Collins said, "Most young adults who are uninsured have incomes that put them in the range of the tax credits." And while the report focuses on healthy young men, it fails to mention that "a lot of young women are actually going to see their premiums go down," she added.

Young adults' participation in the insurance exchanges is considered crucial to the success of the Affordable Care Act, which requires that most Americans get health insurance or pay a fine. Insuring young, healthy people will help to offset the risk of covering older, sicker adults, experts say.

Health-reform advocates said the scope of the registration problems suggested that the controversial law -- which triggered a historic clash between Republicans and Democrats that produced the government shutdown on Tuesday -- could be just what the doctor ordered for many Americans lacking insurance. The initial interest in exploring coverage options hinted at pent-up demand for the kind of coverage now being offered, the AP reported.

More information

Here's how to find the health exchange serving your state.

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