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Obamacare after 2 weeks: Few problems, few patients

The Affordable Care Act's initial stumbles mostly involve insurance cards, but hospitals say the process is mostly smooth.

By Money Staff Jan 16, 2014 3:34PM

This post comes from Jennifer Corbett Dooren and Melinda Beck at partner site The Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal on MSN MoneyThe 2010 health law represented the biggest expansion of insurance coverage in a generation. Nonetheless, the number of people signing up so far for private coverage or Medicaid under the law is still a tiny fraction of all Americans with health insurance, partly because computer snafus hindered early enrollment.

Medical doctor consulting with patient © tetra images, Getty Images"We are definitely seeing an impact, but it's a small number compared to the overall population," said Mark Newton, the chief executive of Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago. Mr. Newton said his hospital saw at least 25 newly insured patients the first week in January and performed two surgeries on people who were waiting for new coverage to kick in on Jan. 1.

"There seems to be this fear that a huge group of patients will suddenly be part of the health-care system. The reality is, they're already part of the system. They're just accessing care in the wrong place, at the wrong time," said Reid Blackwelder, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, who practices in Kingsport, Tenn. "We want to see more patients coming into primary-care offices—we need to get them out of the ER—but that will take some time."

Many initial stumbles involve insurance cards and making sure people who intended to buy coverage actually get on the books. Gary Cohen, an Obama administration official working on the insurance exchanges, is set to testify before a House panel Thursday about that and other issues.

Carol Spier of Bethlehem, Conn., said she was able to sign up easily for coverage on the state's website in December but was repeatedly frustrated in her efforts to get a bill from Anthem BlueCross BlueShield so she could pay her premium and get an insurance card. She finally reached someone at the insurer on New Year's Day and paid, but she still doesn't have her insurance card.

This week, Anthem extended the payment deadline to Jan. 31 for coverage retroactive to Jan. 1. In a statement posted on its website, the insurer acknowledged delays in processing payments and issuing enrollment materials. Kevin Counihan, the head of Connecticut's health-insurance exchange, said about 40 percent of the calls coming into the state's call center involve people who didn't receive a premium statement or insurance card from Anthem. An Anthem spokeswoman didn't respond to a request for comment.

Chet Burrell, the chief executive of nonprofit insurer CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, said customers have to pay before they can get an insurance card, but not everyone understands that. Mr. Burrell, whose company serves Maryland, Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., told a Maryland House panel this week that the company's phone lines have been swamped since December. "There's a tremendous amount of confusion," he said.

About 2.2 million people signed up for private health insurance using the federal or state exchanges through December, according to Obama administration figures. Officials haven't released complete enrollment figures for Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for low-income Americans, but new Medicaid enrollees likely outnumber those buying private insurance.

Enrollment for new coverage continues through March 31, so millions more are expected to gain private health insurance or Medicaid.

Danielle Holahan, the deputy director at New York's state-run health-insurance exchange, said Wednesday that about 7,000 people were enrolling for private health insurance or Medicaid each day through the state's website.

Joe Lech, a pharmacist who has six stores in northeast Pennsylvania, said he personally filled two prescriptions without incident from customers who said they signed up for new insurance created by Obamacare. He and other pharmacists said January always brings hassles because many employers change benefits each year.

The law is having a bigger immediate impact on community health centers that traditionally serve low-income uninsured patients.

Near North Health Service Corp., which operates nine clinics in Chicago, has expanded its hours and added more walk-in appointment slots.

"Some are established patients we've been taking care of here for months or years or even decades," said family physician Ravi Grivois-Shah, the center's medical director. "We're also seeing some new patients who have gone without care for a long time." He said many have what he called "the triple whammy"—a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol that puts them at high risk for a heart attack, stroke or other health problems.

More from The Wall Street Journal:

Jan 16, 2014 4:47PM

Whoopie!  The administration has succeeded in expanding the Medicaid rolls and guess who's paying for it.  That could have been accomplished without a 2,700 page law, billions wasted on stupid ads, dumb navigators and a website that limps along not to mention the 6 million who have already been thrown off their insurance plans.  If this isn't a condemnation of big government, nothing is.

Now we learn today, 1/17, that the administration has been exaggerating the enrollment numbers by MILLIONS (source, Real Clear Politics).  The official enrollment, as bad as they are, are actually fabricated because the real numbers are dismal.  Any wonder that Obama's approval numbers are now at 39%. 

Jan 16, 2014 4:04PM
Doctors here already have nice signs up...   "Not accepting new Medicaid or Obamacare patients"...

Good luck with that.   Obamacare will collapse.  Yong people will not want to pay the premiums of older people.   A poor product, that is very expensive.  Obamacare will only have extreme high risk buyers.   

This November, voters will tell the democrats what they think of Obamacare.    Demcorats should be afraid, very afraid....
Jan 16, 2014 4:10PM
More patients, more problems should be the death of the ridiculous Abominable Care Act. 
Jan 16, 2014 5:32PM

Are Dooren and Beck REALLY trying to paint Obamacare in a positive light??????? It's been a whole TWO WEEKS, and they're trying to laud it a success???? Seriously????????????

Just goes to show that the media are paid propaganda-pushing whores.

Jan 16, 2014 7:39PM
I would like to take this opportunity, to thank the American young people for paying for my upcoming Social Security benefits, AND my medical care.  America is truly a wonderful place.  :o)
Jan 16, 2014 6:40PM
After Obamacare, Republicrats and other progressives are flushed, we'll get back to the local rebuilding of America.
Jan 17, 2014 1:20PM
Obamacare wil go down in history as a bigger financial disaster and failure than the Iraqi war, and almost entirely paid for by taxpayers getting little to no advantage from it. Well, as long as Obama's target group is happy, right?
Jan 16, 2014 7:03PM
Don't like socialism?  How are you enjoying your taxpayer-funded fire rescue, police protection, education to the 12th grade and trash collection?  Whining about that?

Against socialized medicine?  You must be against that "perk" called TriCare.  A former employee of the military fractures his ankle today and taxpayers foot the bill even though the fracture had nothing to do with his former military employment from 10 years ago.  Oh, and there aren't enough jobs in the military to get that socialized medicine for every American citizen.
Jan 16, 2014 5:53PM
I want:Typical Republican,can`t handle the truth.Keep crying,whining and bellyaching.
Jan 16, 2014 5:39PM

I WANT TO BE A CLONE:Lincoln is spinning in his grave with the bellyaching from the GOP.

Republicans can`t didagree without getting loud,foul and nasty.Disgraceful !

Jan 16, 2014 6:17PM

Republicans are what you call SORE LOSERS.Most Americans can see through them.It`s

time for Republicans to FLUSH RUSH.

Jan 16, 2014 5:30PM

I have 2 relatives who signed up for Obamacare and are thrilled with it.They`re both saving $300

to $400 a month.You never hear right wingers mention the great things about the ACA.Please

mention how pre-existing illnesses prevented people from getting coverage.When was the last

time you heard a righty mention that?NEVER.Righties arn`t man enough to admit they`re wrong

most of the time.The modern day Repubs are whiners and crybabies.Lincoln would be ashamed.

Jan 16, 2014 4:47PM
Good news for T-Baggers. Obamacare covers mental illness.
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