NYS: Overwhelming response slows health exchange site

Navigators help people find health insurance at the New York State Health Benefit Exchange facility that opened on Tuesday in Hauppauge. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Oct. 1, 2013)

Navigators help people find health insurance at the New York State Health Benefit Exchange facility that opened on Tuesday in Hauppauge. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Oct. 1, 2013)

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Ten million visits to the state's health insurance website overloaded the online marketplace when it launched Tuesday.

The slowdown started early when the state reported that within hours of opening, New York's website registered more than 2 million hits. The computer problems were mirrored around the country, including on the federal website.

"Since its launch, nystateofhealth.ny.gov has gotten approximately 10 million web visits, far more than was anticipated, causing login problems for users," Donna Frescatore, executive director of the health benefit exchange, called NY State of Health, said in a statement. "In response to these issues, operators at the state's call center have assisted thousands of callers while our technicians have increased the site's capacity."

Frescatore said more than 9,000 New Yorkers, including business owners and individuals, got onto the site and actively shopped online Tuesday. State officials declined to say how many of them selected a health insurance plan.

NY State of Health is the state's online marketplace for individuals, families and businesses with 50 or fewer employees, as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. State exchanges and a federal site allow users to choose from private insurance plans for coverage to take effect Jan. 1.

Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said 2.8 million people visited healthcare.gov -- the website for those states that opted not to operate their own exchange.

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Despite the technical difficulties, state-trained "navigators" at the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council were able to help the 25 or so people who showed up at its Hauppauge office Tuesday morning. The council is one of the state-designated "navigator" agencies on Long Island.

Peter Carmona, 29, of Brentwood, said he already had health insurance but was looking for something with a deductible lower than his current level of $1,250. Carmona said he is healthy but two weeks earlier, he had barely escaped unscathed from a car accident.

"I shudder to think how much that could have cost me," he said of medical costs.

He said the navigator told him that with his income as a professor's assistant at Suffolk County Community College, he might qualify for government-funded Medicaid.

"I just have to bring them in some more information," he said.

Patricia Parine, 54, of Copiague, said she had full health coverage for herself, her two children and domestic partner until her hours as a retail manager were cut back in March. A lung cancer survivor with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Parine said one of her two medications costs her $310 a month.

She too said she was told by the navigator she could qualify for Medicaid.

"Realistically, I need it," she said.

Despite the computer issues, Tuesday's efforts represented a good beginning for the exchange, council spokeswoman Janine Logan said. "From our perspective, it went very well," she said.

Alan Murray, chief executive of North Shore-LIJ CareConnect, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System's new health insurance company, said the computer problems were a hindrance, but the company still saw a 20 percent increase in calls Tuesday.

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Nick Rosen-Wachs, a spokesman for Oscar, a new insurance company based in Manhattan that is one of eight offering plans in Suffolk and one of nine offered in Nassau, said "things are going great for Oscar. They've had thousands of people on the site."


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