Louisiana’s enrollment rate not known

Three weeks after the marketplaces for President Barack Obama’s health insurance program opened, the federal government and participating insurance companies won’t say how many people in Louisiana have signed up for coverage.

Insurers and a local agency helping people enroll say the number is small but upgrades to HealthCare.gov — the main way to shop and sign up for the health insurance plans — have improved the website’s performance.

“Right now it’s taking like maybe 90 minutes. It’s not bad,” said Linda Beauvais, executive director of the Capital Area Agency on Aging, District II, which is helping people navigate the process.

It could be better, she said, noting that sometimes the website drops the application and a person has to start over from scratch. Beauvais said that now happens about a third of the time, compared with almost every time someone tried to apply during the first week the marketplace was open.

Even if the website worked perfectly it would take 45 minutes to an hour to enroll, Beauvais said, because lots of information and choices are involved.

So far, Capital Area Agency has helped around two dozen people enroll, with most of that in the past few days.

The Louisiana insurance companies participating in the marketplace are Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, Humana, Louisiana Health Cooperative and Vantage Health Plan. None of the companies would provide enrollment numbers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that close to 500,000 people have applied but will not say how many people have actually enrolled. HHS said it will release enrollment figures on a monthly basis.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana spokesman John Maginnis said the company plans to release enrollment numbers periodically although no schedule has been set. Maginnis expects insurers will follow HHS’s lead.

Humana spokesman Mitch Lubitz said the publicly traded company plans to release its third-quarter earnings on Nov. 6 and cannot comment before then. Officials with the Louisiana Health Cooperative could not be reached for comment Friday or Monday.

Vantage Health Plan spokesman Billy Justice said he could not provide enrollment numbers.

Applications are starting to come through but very slowly, he said.

Vantage Health is getting more paper applications than online submissions, he added.

The application numbers are low because many of the people visiting HealthCare.gov aren’t ready to purchase coverage because they don’t understand what they’re buying yet, Justice said.

“A lot of people are calling in and asking questions,” Justice said. “Our phone and website traffic have been extraordinarily high.”

Working out the kinks with HealthCare.gov is going to take time, but eventually it will happen, he said.

The open enrollment period ends March 31.

Louisiana is one of 36 states that didn’t set up its own website, forcing the federal government to provide the state marketplace. The state estimates 350,000 uninsured people in Louisiana could be eligible for financial help to buy insurance through the marketplace.

The Affordable Care Act makes subsidies available to buy insurance if a family’s income is from 100 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

A family of three with an income from $19,530 to $78,120 a year would be eligible for subsidies. The amount of the subsidy shrinks as incomes grow.