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Computer glitches linger for Ill. health exchange

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013 1:57 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois officials said they were ready Wednesday for the second day of a new health insurance marketplace and were hoping people would have better luck signing up for coverage.

Problems with a federal website Tuesday prevented many people in Illinois and elsewhere from setting up accounts, comparing insurance policies and enrolling for coverage under the nation's new health care law.

By midmorning Wednesday, Champaign Urbana Public Health District employee Awais Vaid said that while people who are eligible for Medicaid can sign up through the state's website, the federal marketplace site was still responding with error messages.

"I was there for about 45 minutes, and it was still not doing it," he said, noting very few people had come through the office to try to sign up Wednesday.

The federal government is running the technical side of the Illinois marketplace because state lawmakers didn't approve a state-run system.

The Get Covered Illinois website had received more than 100,000 unique visitors as of 8 a.m. Wednesday, said spokeswoman Kelly Sullivan, who added that state officials appreciate consumers' patience. About 2,500 Medicaid applications have been submitted through the state's website. Illinois is among the states that opted to expand their Medicaid programs to cover low-income adults without dependent children.

The federal marketplace site — HealthCare.gov — is for people whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid but who may qualify for tax credits to lower their insurance costs. The Illinois website — GetCoveredIllinois.gov — routes people to Medicaid or the federal site.

A shortage of certified outreach workers is also a potential problem in Illinois. The workers are important because the enrollment process is complicated and many consumers need help navigating their way through the system.

Illinois has been able to certify only 200 outreach workers as of 9 a.m. Wednesday.

"We are aggressively moving hundreds more through the queue in the next few days," Sullivan said. State officials have blamed delays in getting the workers through a federal training program for the lag in certifications.

Illinois officials have said 1,200 temporary outreach workers, hired with federal grant money, would ultimately be trained and certified. About 1.8 million Illinois residents are uninsured, about 15 percent of the population.

Some of those who are trained said that even 70 hours of training didn't prepare them for absolutely everything they would see.

Alice Cronenberg was helping 29-year-old Debora Costa try to sign up for insurance for her two young children Wednesday in Champaign when they discovered Costa, who recently moved to nearby Savoy from Brazil, needed information from her passport she didn't have with her.

"There are things that it's like, because the websites are so new, not everybody knows what they need to bring," Cronenberg said.

Costa said she'd have to come back later to finish her application, as well as apply for insurance for herself. Her husband is insured through the University of Illinois, where he's a graduate student. But covering the whole family would have cost almost $6,000 a year. A neighbor told her she might want to check out options through the Affordable Care Act.

"We were thinking about just paying the student insurance," which they would have struggled to afford, she said.

In Chicago, Percy Giles at the Westside Health Authority, a nonprofit group that's helping with enrollment, said that his office had postponed all the Wednesday morning appointments made by people who want to enroll in order to bring in technical workers to make sure the problems aren't caused by the computers in his office.

Giles said he hoped the problems that kept people who had come in Tuesday from signing up would be solved by early afternoon, and that people would be able to sign up later in the day.

"We want to get it working so we don't have residents coming in and being unable to sign up," Giles said.

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AP writers Don Babwin in Chicago and David Mercer in Champaign, Ill., contributed to this report.

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Online:

http://getcoveredillinois.gov/

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