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Federal health care website working better in Utah

By Brady Mccombs

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 3 2013 3:24 p.m. MST

This Nov. 29, 2013 file photo shows part of the HealthCare.gov website, photographed in Washington.

Jon Elswick, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — When she first tried several weeks ago to sign up for health insurance on the federal government's online marketplace, Pam Sheridan was repeatedly kicked off by the glitch-plagued website.

Her second attempt Friday went much smoother: she was able to enroll without any hitches in less than an hour. It comes just as she was starting to get nervous about the Dec. 23 deadline to enroll for coverage starting at the beginning of the year.

"It was very relieving just to know that it was in place on time," said Sheridan, a retired nurse who lives in the small central Utah town of Scipio.

In Utah, the much-maligned federal health insurance website, healthcare.gov, seems to be working much better, say brokers and online assisters who have been helping people use the online exchange.

Three out of four people are getting through the registration process in an hour or less this week, said Alan Pruhs, executive director of the Association for Utah Community Health. In previous weeks, members of Pruhs' team often spent up to two hours with people and still could not get them through the process because of website glitches.

The Barack Obama administration promised a vastly improved shopping experience by the end of November. While it's getting positive reviews in Utah, one of 36 states that rely on the federal website, it's getting mixed reviews nationally.

There are still some glitches, said Jason Stevenson, a spokesman for the Utah Health Policy Project, but the process is much smoother than it was in recent weeks. That's refreshing for community health organizations like his who can finally get people enrolled.

Lloyd Coleman, president of the Utah Association of Health Underwriters, said his brokers are also seeing people get through the process in an hour or less.

"It's very good to have it working," Coleman said. "We have quite a few people we've been talking with that have been waiting for it to work. Now, they can actually enroll."

But one major problem persists: the federal website is still not interfacing correctly with Utah state systems, leaving thousands of Medicaid-eligible people in limbo as they try to get coverage.

Utah Department of Workforce Services spokesman Nic Dunn said about 3,800 applications are waiting in the pipeline because of the ongoing problem.

Under the health care law, consumers are supposed to be directed to the right place to find coverage no matter where they start applying.

For example, if people applying for coverage on the federal website appear to be eligible for Medicaid, the state-federal program for low-income people, their application should be seamlessly transferred to the state agency that administers the program.

Federal officials reported back in September that they were unable to send those applications to Utah's Department of Workforce Services, which administers Medicaid in the state. That problem continues, Dunn said.

Until Department of Workforce Services can see the applications, they cannot determine if those people are in fact eligible for Medicaid, leaving them in limbo, he said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has offered a temporary solution for states to help their residents get registered for Medicaid by Jan. 1, said agency spokeswoman Emma Sandoe. That entails sending a smaller, flat file with some basic information until the full files can be sent.

Dunn said Utah is still determining if that option is feasible.

Until then, Dunn said anyone who thinks they might be eligible for Medicaid should start with the Department of Workforce Services.

"The most important thing right now is for Utahns to start in the right place," he said.

Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.

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