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Official: Nevada health exchange seeing ‘frustrated consumers and low enrollment’

Updated Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 | 7 p.m.

CARSON CITY — Meeting lower enrollment targets for Nevada's online health insurance exchange will still be challenging as the system continues to grapple with website and call center issues, a state official said Thursday.

"It has been a difficult month," Jon Hager, executive director of the exchange, said in a report to the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange board. "We have had website problems, long wait times at the call center, frustrated partners, frustrated consumers and low enrollment."

Hager outlined immediate goals that reflect issues that have plagued the system from the start: Fix the website and fix the call center.

An initial target of 118,000 enrollments by March 31 — the last day to sign up and avoid penalties under the federal health care reform law — was substantially reduced to less than half. Now, the exchange is hoping to get 50,000 sign-ups by the deadline, a goal Hager conceded is "still a challenge."

As of last week, roughly 24,000 people had selected plans through the exchange, called Nevada Health Link. Of those, 16,000 had actually paid the monthly premium.

Given those statistics, the exchange will have to sign up as many people in the next six weeks as it did since Oct. 1 when the web portal went live.

Xerox, the contractor that designed Nevada's system, has come under fire for computer glitches and woefully underestimating staff needed at a call center to assist consumers by phone.

Hager said the company in December tripled the number of developers working the project and last month added management and business analyst resources, resulting in faster corrections when problems arise.

Additionally, as of last week, call center staff has increased to 183, with another 66 undergoing training. The center also has expanded its operating hours to 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. weekends.

Wait times have been trimmed to less than 30 minutes in most cases, he said, a big improvement from more than an hour in January.

Hager said hiring another contractor could not be accomplished until October 2015.

Others noted that an initiative petition has been filed to eliminate the Nevada system. That would have to be approved by voters in 2014 and 2016.

Board Chairwoman Barbara Campbell said she would rather keep the business in Nevada instead of turning it over to the federal government.

Board member Marie Kerr of Reno called the system "kind of a mess" but added it "would be a tragedy for the federal government to take over."

While sign-ups for private insurance have been slow, the number of people signing up for Medicaid has surged.

Three times as many people seeking health coverage through the exchange have signed up for government-backed Medicaid or another insurance program for low-income children than purchased private coverage — 69,000 vs. 23,000. Those numbers don't include people who signed up Medicaid through the state Division of Welfare and Supportive Services.

In January, Nevada's Medicaid caseload grew by 36,000 to 377,363, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Since the start of the year, more than 50,000 Medicaid applications have been referred through Nevada Health Link alone.

As of Wednesday, the agency had a backlog of 57,000 applications awaiting process.

Sun reporter Cy Ryan contributed to this report.

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