Consumers still can't go online and buy insurance through the Cover Oregon website. But the initial bugs are pretty much ironed out for insurance agents using a special online "agent portal," local agents say.
Consumers can go to the Cover Oregon site, answer a few questions and find out roughly what their premium will be, along with an estimate of the tax credits they're qualified to receive, but they shouldn't try to file their application there.
Let an agent do that.
"It's a lot easier going through an agent," says Gina Landers, an agent for Straus & Associates in Medford. "For the average person, it's complicated to try it on the Internet. There's a lot they can't figure out, and if their computer isn't compatible with the program, they can't get the application to go through.
"But I have my own secure portal, and we get fast confirmation, and Cover Oregon sends it to the carrier (insurance company)."
Consumers pay the same amount for premiums under Cover Oregon whether they go through an agent or the state website. Cover Oregon, started in October 2013, has enrolled about 180,000 people, officials say — 141,000 in the Oregon Health Plan and 41,000 in private plans.
"In the beginning, we couldn't do anything on the website," says Landers. "We had to use paper, faxes, mail. It was a real mess. It's been trial and error, but we've got it efficient now, and we get immediate confirmation. Cover Oregon updates us pretty well on avoiding glitches."
While agents seem to be working around the system's potholes, insurance companies are inundated with communications and complications of the new system, says Ed Singler of Moda Health in Medford.
Under the Affordable Health Care Act, insurance companies have to insure all applicants, regardless of pre-existing conditions. As a result, there's been a surge in applicants who are already sick and could not previously get insurance, says Farmers agent Paul Volz of Ashland.
"The insurance companies are getting bombed," says Volz. "They got 150,000 applicants in the first four months. The negative part was in the first 120 days — they were all sick and had a bad need for it. Now, you've got the sick and the healthy applying, though we still don't see too many young people. They're mostly older or families. They see the need for it and get advance tax credits ... and that helps pay for it."
According to Volz, applicants can go to www.coveroregon.com and answer questions about their age, number of people to be insured, income and zip code, and the website will give them an idea of subsidies and premiums.
"If your situation is simple," says Volz, "we get a response in a few minutes and can tell you your tax credit, then have it all done in a couple hours.
Prior to health reform, "you had everything on paper, mailed it, waited two or three weeks and then maybe got rejected for having a pre-existing condition, says Volz.
"Now whatever plan you pick, you're going to be accepted, and it's done the same day."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.