Oct 25, 2013 3:31 PM by AP
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The three main companies offering health insurance plans to Louisiana residents on the federally run online health marketplace refused Friday to say how many people have been able to sign up for coverage.
The marketplace offers health insurance options for people who are uninsured or who currently pay for individual policies, rather than getting insurance through their jobs. The website has been plagued with computer problems.
Though the problems were not of their own making, representatives of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, the Louisiana Health Cooperative and Vantage Health Plan wouldn't provide a state health panel with detailed sign-up figures, instead giving anecdotal evidence of difficulties for customers to get enrolled.
Initially, the company officials suggested to the Louisiana Health Care Commission that it didn't have the figures.
"I don't think any of us know at this point because there is a pipeline of information at the federal government that is not getting down to us," said Greg Cromer, chief executive of the Louisiana Health Cooperative and a state lawmaker.
Under questioning, Cromer acknowledged the companies know how many people have enrolled and have paid premiums to them - but representatives of each firm wouldn't share the information. Each described enrollee figures as small and gave no explanation for why they wouldn't provide actual numbers.
"If our numbers were something to brag about, you'd be hearing about them," Cromer said.
A reporter tried to press the company officials, but Donna Fraiche, chair of the health care commission, shut down the questioning, calling it argumentative.
Louisiana's health insurance exchange is federally run because Gov. Bobby Jindal refused to let the state create its own marketplace.
Federal subsidies are available to many low- and middle-income families to help cover costs. At the same time, people need to enroll in an insurance plan by mid-February or face fines under the health care law.
Tej Shah, a senior vice president with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, said people shouldn't focus too heavily on the early results of enrollment.
The website opened enrollment on Oct. 1, but people have until March 31 to sign up. To have coverage by the Jan. 1 start date of the insurance plans, they need to be enrolled by Dec. 15.
"While I think these past couple of weeks have been disappointing in terms of the volume and activity, November is going to be very telling," Shah said.
Billy Justice, director of marketing and sales for Vantage, said the computer problems with the federal www.healthcare.gov website have stressed customers, health care providers and insurance brokers. But he said if the website problems can be fixed, there's demand to buy insurance through it.
"If we can send a rocket to Mars and land it, door opens and this little four-wheeler's running around looking under rocks and sending back soil samples, you ought to be able to fix this website," Justice said.
A fourth company, Humana, is offering insurance plans through the federal marketplace, but only in one Louisiana parish.