Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Daniel Thompson

Kimball Hospital deals with health care glitches


Daniel Thompson/Western Nebraska Observer

Hospital staff is preparing for assisting residents in signing up for health care coverage while health care website undergoes needed maintenance.

With the current setbacks and issues affecting HealthCare.gov, county hospitals are left wondering whether or not the new health insurance marketplaces will be effective in helping residents receive affordable coverage.

According to a report by The Washington Post, Quality Software Services, Inc., has been charged with taking over management of HealthCare.gov in order to fix the website to create a smoother process for U.S. citizens to select insurance plans.

Among the problems impacting the website are erroneous reports the system sends to insurance companies, and the fact that three out of 10 users are unable to complete the enrollment process. According to Jeffrey Zients, a former administration official selected by the White House to assess the extent of the online marketplace's problems, though there is extensive work to do, the problems are 'fixable'.

"It will take a lot of work, and there are a lot of problems that need to be addressed. But let me be clear: HealthCare.gov is fixable," Zients said.

However, the fixes won't be done until the end of November, according to the report.

The issues plaguing the enrollment process not he health care website have recently been felt by local residents when trying to enroll for coverage with the aid of the Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska (CAPWYN) in Scottsbluff, according to Business Office Manager for Kimball Health Services Katrina Makey.

"Even the patients that CAPWYN was able to get into the system, it would tell them what their tax credits were, but it wouldn't give them the final price. They could get to the very last screen finally, but it would never actually finish the process so it was just out there incomplete," Makey said.

Apart from the current website issues, the hospital has also not received necessary materials in order to help patients register online, a problem believed to stem from the effects of the recent government shutdown.

"Medicare has accepted us as a program counseling center. We can do the counseling on it, but they have to send you a welcome packet. We have an ID number, but until we get the welcome packet so we can go in and register with that ID number, we can't even get into the websites," Makey said.

Another problem facing Kimball Health Services and other local hospitals is that the state's marketplace simply does not have as many providers as other states who opted to develop their own instead of opting for the federal government to provide one for them, according to CEO of Kimball Health Services Ken Hunter.

"Colorado has 60 providers on their exchange. We have three: Coventry, Blue Cross and ACCESSNebraska. We haven't received one contract from any of those entities for that. In other words, they don't have contracts with people to grant care. Generally, you do, because they're supposed to be getting the best price. But we haven't been contacted by any of them, and most of the hospitals have not," Hunter said.

Though the delays are troublesome and affect local residents ability to sign up for affordable coverage for the time being, Hunter states that the hospital itself remains unaffected by the current glitches in the system.

"We feel like to date we don't see anything that would hurt us from the Affordable Care Act from this portion of it. It won't change anything. Today will be just like yesterday, but today should have been better than yesterday for small hospitals," Hunter said.

However, Hunter is admittedly slightly discouraged by the small number of residents who are actively trying to get affordable care through the marketplace.

"The worst thing that we're seeing is just apathy. We haven't just been bombarded by phone calls. We've had a few people come in. I think that's going to be kind of aslow process," Hunter said.

Makey speculates that this slowed down process could continue through the first year of the Affordable Care Act's implementation due to the low penalty charge that comes with not signing up for the first year.

"The tax penalty is not significant enough to really drive people. If you can't afford to pay for the hospital when you come into today, you probably don't have enough money for the first month's premium. I think that inhibits people from wanting to apply," Makey said.

Hunter also anticipates that the younger age group will be hesitant to sign up for coverage or use the marketplace simply due to the fact that it's an unwanted expense that they will not believe is truly necessary.

"I think young people are going to be reluctant. If you're young and healthy and all of a sudden you're going to be paying $400 a month for insurance, I don't think you'd sign up for it," Hunter said.

Although the process is seemingly moving very slowly at the present time, Hunter is still optimistic about the potential benefit that the marketplace and the Affordable Care Act in general can bring to the people of Kimball, especially when it comes to small business interests.

"I do think that if it works out in the big picture, primarily it'll help the small business. It's just a nightmare for a small business to get insurance at an affordable cost. I do think though slowly there will be a competitiveness spread throughout the industry, and the market will balance itself out," Hunter said. "I worry about all the details, but it will help Kimball County. Counties that have a large uninsured population are going to be helped."

According to Makey, residents who want to find affordable coverage can even do so over the phone with counselors at CAPWYN.

"They can do the counseling over the phone. They can do applications over the phone with patients, because they have had access except that the website is not working right now," Makey said.

For now, the hospital is already planning counseling events for when the health care website is fixed, and residents can start the process of picking insurance plans once again.

"As soon as the website is straightened out, CAPWYN is going to come down here and do a sign up drive with us where we'll have people available to answer questions and get people signed up," Hunter said.


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