Despite system glitches, you and your family can obtain health insurance

Published: Saturday, Nov. 2 2013 8:50 p.m. MDT

Robin Pratt tries Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, to sign up for the a health care plan on the federal government's website, but she finds the website down again.

Family, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite a rocky start for the federal health insurance marketplace website, Utahns' questions are being answered by federal agents and state residents are getting help submitting applications from various local organizations.

"You can phone in to find out the answers to your questions, you can physically walk in and have someone help you. You don't have to bang your head against the website," said Robin Pratt, of Salt Lake City, who has successfully accessed the healthcare.gov.

Pratt used a workaround tactic discovered by a fellow Utahn to get through technical bugs plaguing the site and causing multiple errors to occur. Randall Bennett, of Ogden, found that he could breach glitches prohibiting access to the site by using the Google Chrome browser in incognito mode.

The seemingly simple fix, Pratt said, worked, and after two weeks of attempts, she was able to at least submit an application. Each day, she said, something else is fixed on the "incredibly complicated" website.

"It's already improved in the days I've been trying to do this," Pratt said. On Tuesday, though, Pratt was attempting a new application, as it appeared her initial one had "gotten stuck" in the process.

The Obama administration said it expects the marketplace website to run smoothly "for the vast majority of users" by the end of November. It has retained a team of experts to assess the site's performance and overhaul areas needing fixes.

Pratt is hopeful that she will be able to complete the process soon and that she will be insured by the Jan. 1 deadline, when Americans were originally required to be insured or pay a penalty. That deadline was extended Wednesday to allow for sign-ups through March 31 without a penalty.

To have a plan in place by January, individuals and families must enroll by Dec. 15.

The plans

There are 96 plans available to Utahns. And it is possible to view an estimated cost for those plans without submitting a personal application.

The competitively priced plans come in five categories — catastrophic, bronze, silver, gold and platinum — and are offered by six insurance carriers, some of which are local. The categories vary in premium cost and what part of the bill is paid by the member, ranging from 60 percent to 90 percent paid by the provider.

All plans must cover 10 essential benefits, including such things as doctor visits, prescription drugs, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, preventive care, mental health services, emergency care, laboratory costs, dental care for children and rehabilitative services.

In Utah, the average premium for the lowest-cost silver plan, which covers 70 percent of expected costs, is $239, and, for the lowest-cost bronze plan, it is $201.

Many people who apply for coverage in the marketplace might be eligible for lower costs on monthly premiums based on their household size and income. Those tax credits — for individuals and families with incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($94,200 for a family of four) — will work as an upfront discount, or subsidy.

With subsidies, as well as expanded Medicaid coverage in many states, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that six out of 10 currently uninsured Americans will be able to find coverage for $100 or less per month.

Policymakers in Utah have yet to make a decision on Medicaid expansion.

Getting coverage

Low-priced "catastrophic" plans, which provide benefits only in the case of an emergency, are available to people under age 30, but tax credits cannot be applied, according to the federal government.

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