DES MOINES — State officials urged patience for Iowans who wanted to sign up for health insurance using the state exchanges only to encounter a buggy and, occasionally, non-functioning online system.
Iowa is one of 34 states that use a federally run website where participating insurers in each state could list insurance plans and users could sign up for coverage.
Tuesday was the first day the website went live.
“We knew that with the many shoppers, browsers and others who may be merely curious about the site, their huge numbers were likely to put a strain on the system. That seems to have been true,” said Tom Alger, spokesman for the Iowa Insurance Division. “Since we are not in control of the site and since we don’t really have any inside access to its operation, we are at this point just monitoring its status.”
Six insurance companies are offering plans on the Iowa exchange. Two of those companies, Coventry Health Care and CoOportunity Health, offer plans in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. Other insurers offer plans in specific regions.
Alger said the state didn’t have any information how many people signed up through the Iowa exchange, but he expected that would be come in time.
“We advise people to try again when the crush of site visitors has cooled, and to then check out their options in the marketplace to see if those coverage options fit their needs,” Alger said.
Visiting Nurses Services of Iowa is one of three federally named “navigators” for the state of Iowa. It received federal funding to help people navigate the website at www.healthcare.gov and answer questions people might have about the process.
Spokeswoman Linda Clauson said the agency fielded six phone calls from the 38-county area it covers by late afternoon.
Visiting Nurses primarily covers the central and southeast part of the state. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and Genesis Health System are the other federally appointed navigators. The three split up to $600,000 with Visiting Nurses for their role as navigators.
“We concentrated on what we did best, which is the regulation of health plans, and we met our responsibility in the partnership,” said Michael Bousselot, health care policy adviser to Gov. Terry Branstad. He said the “delays and dysfunction” with the website rests solely with the federal government.
The federal government hasn’t yet given the state a waiver to operate the Healthy Iowa Plan, but, Bousselot said, Branstad administration officials had a “very productive discussion” with federal officials Monday afternoon.
“We brought some things to their attention, and we’re going forward,” he said.