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NY health insurance exchange hits snags

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Want to sit down and chat with someone to help guide you through the new marketplace for affordable health insurance?

Take a number.

Northern New York residents who are uninsured or do not have affordable health coverage have to wait just a little longer before they can meet face to face with navigators who will help explain the variety of plans available under the federal Affordable Care Act.

“We want to make sure we’re being as effective as possible, and because of that we’re holding off on people until the website is a bit more responsive,” said Anne Marie Snell, shop navigation director at the St. Lawrence County Health Initiative, Potsdam, where the phones “have been ringing off the hook.”

NY State of Health, the online health insurance exchange people may use to compare and shop for health insurance coverage, was overloaded with millions of users trying to access the page Tuesday, when the six-month open enrollment period began. Again on Wednesday, log-in problems were reported, and a disclaimer at the top of the website read: “Due to overwhelming interest in the NY State of Health — including millions of visits during the first day of site launch — the health exchange is currently having log in issues. We encourage users who are unable to log in to come back to the site later when these issues will be resolved.”

The system is a requirement of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Donna Hynes, insurance program coordinator at the North Country Prenatal/Perinatal Council, said late Tuesday that the agency’s few certified navigators could only take calls and answer general questions about the exchange.

“We’re doing a soft start here,” she said. “Next week, we’ll get busy. We’re fielding a lot of calls. Time will be the test.”

The most common issue people have called with, Mrs. Hynes said, is people wanting to be assured that once they start the process of searching and comparing plans they don’t have to make a choice right away. People want time to think about the plan, and that’s what the system is designed to do, she said.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Snell said St. Lawrence County Health Initiative’s navigators are trying to get the word out that if people are eligible for a tax credit and apply 100 percent of that toward paying down their new premium, they may end up owing funds if the household income increases.

Navigators there have booked their first appointments for Saturday. While some spots are available sporadically throughout the next few weeks, the agency already is booking into November.

Although people are intrigued by the new system, she said, being the first in line won’t mean you’ll get a prize or the plan no one else can have. Plans are available at a variety of levels for all uninsured New Yorkers, or those who pay an unaffordable insurance, which equals a premium 9.5 percent or greater than their gross annual income. Small businesses also may participate.

Coverage may begin Jan. 1.

For more information, call navigators at ACR Health at 800-475-2430, North Country Prenatal/Perinatal Council at 788-8533, St. Lawrence County Health Initiative at 261-4760, or the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce at 788-4400.

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