Decoding the ACA

Attempts to enroll in health care online lead to error messages

2013-10-01T17:30:00Z 2013-11-14T16:08:11Z Attempts to enroll in health care online lead to error messagesVanessa Renderman vanessa.renderman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3244 nwitimes.com

People eager to buy health care online the first day exchanges opened were met with frozen computer screens and error messages.

The flood of visitors to www.healthcare.gov on Tuesday jammed the website, making for futile ventures into the enrollment process.

President Barack Obama said there were five times more users to the website Tuesday morning than had ever been on www.medicare.gov in a day.

"That gives you a sense of how important this is to Americans across the country," he said.

The volume of website visitors shows there is a need, said Beth Wrobel, CEO of the federally qualified health center HealthLinc in Valparaiso.

The center had planned to assist at least one patient enroll Tuesday, but computer glitches forced the person to reschedule.

"The main date we need to worry about is Dec. 15 because that is the date they need to enroll and pay their first payment to have coverage on Jan. 1," she said.

Waiting for the website to function puts people in a holding pattern.

"We're just kind of stuck in the mud right now until the website is operational," said Sister M. Aline Shultz, corporate vice president of marketing and public relations for Franciscan Alliance.

Paper applications are being accepted, she said.

Franciscan is among the health care systems in the region offering assistance in enrolling people in health care established under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Navigators and certified application counselors are stationed at each of the hospitals, and on-site financial counselors can answer basic questions, she said.

Community Healthcare System had one appointment scheduled Tuesday afternoon at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago, to help guide a woman through enrollment.

Deanita Anguiano, a navigator, said it took about two minutes to get through the first three steps in the sign-up process, but the computer gave an error message three or four times and wouldn't let the woman proceed. She rescheduled her appointment.

The health care system has 16 navigators and two back-ups, some of whom also speak Spanish, at its hospitals.

Methodist Hospitals has 16 navigators and certified application counselors to assist patients, CFO Matt Doyle said.

"What we anticipated probably occurred," he said. "A lot of inquiries, questions. But certainly not a mad rush to sign up."

Doyle said the health care system was able to assist a handful of people through the process Tuesday.

Don Munoz, director of business operations for Methodist Hospitals, said most of the inquiries were basic, such as where to find more information.

Munoz said he was notified at 3:30 p.m. that www.healthcare.gov was up and running.

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