Lindeen on Health Exchange: I Told You So

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — Montana’s insurance commissioner said Tuesday that she is frustrated and upset that the federal health insurance exchange is still not working properly three weeks after its launch.

Monica Lindeen also had a message for state legislators who rejected a Montana-run marketplace website: I told you so.

Republican-led legislators opposed to President Barack Obama’s health overhaul previously derailed a bill that would have created a state-run online exchange. As a result, the federal government is running Montana’s exchange and those of dozens of other states through www.healthcare.gov .

The U.S. government website has been plagued by errors and delays since it launched Oct. 1. States with their own exchanges are faring better. Some have launched without a hitch; others that have been able to fix glitches encountered at start up, Lindeen said.

“I know you’re never supposed to say I told you so, but I really have to say it this time,” she told a panel of lawmakers meeting for an update on the exchange.

Lindeen reminded the panel that she appeared before the Legislature during the session earlier this year with insurers, industry groups and individuals to press for a state-run exchange.

A proposal for a state-run exchange by Republican Rep. Tom Berry of Roundup was killed in a House committee in March by stringent critics of the health-care law who saw it as supporting an unpopular federal program.

Lindeen said the bill was killed because the Legislature couldn’t get past partisan politics, leaving the state in the situation it’s in now.

“I hope in the future we are able to close the gap and work together when we have an issue this important,” she said.

Still, insurance coverage being offered through the exchange is sound, and people can bypass the website by phoning a toll-free call center or downloading a paper application and mailing it in, she said.

The exchanges are a key part of the health-care overhaul, meant to help uninsured or underinsured people and groups find coverage in an open marketplace.

The enrollment period is open for coverage that begins Jan. 1, and most uninsured people who aren’t enrolled after March will face a tax penalty in 2014 that will rise in subsequent years.

Subsidies are available for people with incomes less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

The members of the Economic Affairs interim committee did not address Lindeen’s comments but focused instead on how many people actually have signed up for insurance coverage through the exchange, the cost of the plans and whether private information was being adequately protected.

Lindeen said she did not know how many people have been able to sign up, as the system is run by the federal government.

“We’re not getting a lot of answers at this point,” she said. “Whatever you read in the press is pretty much what we’ve got.”

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.