NYers May Have Easier Go In Finding Affordable Health Care

9:44 PM, Oct 22, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO, NY - Problems being felt by millions of Americans in accessing the federal health insurance website as outlined by President Obama on Monday aren't perhaps as severe in New York State.

That's because New York one of 16 states that set up its own health care exchange, meaning New Yorkers don't go through the federal site-- healthcare.gov, which has been plagued by glitches and computer problems.

And while New York State of Health which is the official health plan marketplace for New Yorkers, had its own healthy dose of problems when it initially opened, the state insists many of the wrinkles have been ironed out.

"There were some initial problems in New York, but they increased capacity in the first week and people are having an easier time getting through and getting enrolled," said Don Ingalls, Vice President of State and Federal Regulations for Blue and Blue Shield Blue of Western New York.

Blue Cross Blue Shield is one of the six insurance providers locally offering plans in the state marketplace.

"In fact we just got our first file of members, or people that have chosen our plans on the exchange," Ingalls told WGRZ-TV.

Navigating the Exchange:

The new law established the creation of funding for health care "navigators", which are people trained to guide those exploring health care insurance options.

They are supposed to offer assistance in explaining how to sign up, help small business owners set up coverage for employees, and to point out the differences in the health insurance plans to those seeking coverage.

The Navigator Program is administered locally by community agencies, such as Neighborhood Legal Services, and health care providers such as Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and Kaleida Health.

"While our staff has encountered some challenges with the exchange, mainly from a technology perspective, we are working with the State to improve access and eliminate any barriers for those seeking health insurance," said Michael P. Hughes, vice president of Kaleida Health. "As an official navigator for New York State, Kaleida Health has had over 300 inquiries regarding navigator assistance over the past two weeks. This represents a 150% increase over our normal call volume for facilitated enrollment. In short, we are working every day to help consumers understand insurance offerings, select best options and determine what level of financial assistance is available to them and apply for coverage."

"As an insurance provider, we are not allowed to have 'navigators'...but we do have certified application counselors, said Ingalls, explaining that those counselors can offer customers assistance in finding the right fit for them among insurance products offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Thousands More Signing Up Daily:

As of Monday at 9am nearly 150,000 New Yorkers had completed the full application process and were determined eligible for health insurance plans since the Oct. 1 launch, according to the NY State Health Department.  

The federal government reported approximately 500,000 applications have been submitted nationwide; with New York State's completed applications making up more than 30 percent of the total US figure

However, the Health Department has yet to detail how many people have actually enrolled in a health insurance plan through the program. 

Ingalls confirmed that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York has had 150 people enroll with them since the exchange opened three weeks ago.

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bob Mancuso. Follow Dave on Twitter:@DaveMcKinley2

WGRZ-TV, wgrz.com

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