Website Problems Won’t Stop Obamacare Outreach

Enroll America has continued its enrollment efforts despite problems with HealthCare.gov.

A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange internet site October 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. US President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it is commonly called, passed in March 2010, went into effect Tuesday at 8am EST. Heavy Internet traffic and system problems plagued the launch of the new health insurance exchanges Tuesday morning. Consumers attempting to log on were met with an error message early Tuesday due to an overload of Internet traffic. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER 
National Journal
Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
Nov. 12, 2013, 10:49 a.m.

It’s tough to con­vince people to en­roll for cov­er­age on a web­site that doesn’t work.

This is a prob­lem that En­roll Amer­ica — the non­par­tis­an, non­profit or­gan­iz­a­tion ded­ic­ated to max­im­iz­ing en­roll­ment of un­in­sured Amer­ic­ans through Obama­care — has faced over the past month and a half, fol­low­ing the prob­lem­at­ic launch of the fed­er­al ex­change web­site. Yet the or­gan­iz­a­tion re­mains op­tim­ist­ic.

“With the dis­ap­point­ing rol­lout of Health­Care.gov, it’s be­come clear­er our role on the ground has nev­er been more im­port­ant,” said En­roll Amer­ica Pres­id­ent Anne Filipic on a press call Tues­day.

The or­gan­iz­a­tion has a na­tion­wide staff of 200 em­ploy­ees, with three-quar­ters of them work­ing on the ground in 10 states. These have been iden­ti­fied as states with few­er re­sources ded­ic­ated to Obama­care out­reach — primar­ily states that are not run­ning their own ex­changes or ex­pand­ing Medi­caid. Ten­ness­ee will be ad­ded as an 11th state.

En­roll Amer­ica has fo­cused on out­reach more than en­roll­ment thus far, giv­en that the fed­er­al ex­change web­site is still not fully func­tion­al. This means con­tinu­ing to identi­fy and con­tact un­in­sured and un­der­insured in­di­vidu­als, and help­ing them un­der­stand new cov­er­age op­tions. Fol­low-ups and ac­tu­al en­roll­ments will come in the be­gin­ning of Decem­ber, when the ad­min­is­tra­tion has said the site will be op­er­at­ing smoothly for the vast ma­jor­ity of users.

“Look­ing for­ward, we real­ize there’s an im­port­ant win­dow where there is a com­bin­a­tion of in­creased in­terest, a work­ing web­site, and a com­ing dead­line,” said John Gil­bert, na­tion­al field dir­ect­or at En­roll Amer­ica. “There’s go­ing to be a fi­nite amount of time to build that in­terest in­to ac­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to Gil­bert, En­roll Amer­ica has reached out to more than 300,000 con­sumers, had sub­stant­ive con­ver­sa­tions with 60,000 of those, and iden­ti­fied more than 30,000 as un­in­sured or un­der­insured and very in­ter­ested in en­rolling through the ex­changes.

En­roll Amer­ica did not provide in­form­a­tion on the num­ber who have ac­tu­ally en­rolled, as they haven’t con­duc­ted fol­low-ups while the site is be­ing fixed.

There have been prom­ising signs for the or­gan­iz­a­tion, des­pite the web­site prob­lems. Ac­cord­ing to Filipic, con­sumer out­reach has more than doubled from Au­gust to Oc­to­ber, and doubled again since Oct. 1. There are now more than 10,000 vo­lun­teers, with more than half of those join­ing since Oct. 1. The or­gan­iz­a­tion has raised more than $27 mil­lion since March 2013, on top of the $5 mil­lion it raised in 2011 and 2012.

While there is a heavy fo­cus on Health­Care.gov en­roll­ment num­bers set to be re­leased by CMS this week, En­roll Amer­ica’s em­phas­is re­mains on the num­ber it reaches. “For our or­gan­iz­a­tion, [the key] is identi­fy­ing people, en­ga­ging them, and bring­ing them to places where en­roll­ment can hap­pen,” Gil­bert said. “For that met­ric we can eas­ily con­trol and track, we feel good.”

“[Our goal] is reach­ing those con­sumers who didn’t vis­it Health­Care.gov on Oct. 1 or aren’t aware there is a web­site,” Filipic ad­ded. “We’re reach­ing those needles in the hay­stack who wouldn’t get the in­form­a­tion without an in-per­son pres­ence.”

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