By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
Customers trying to use an online system to qualify for federal tax credits through Colorados health exchange will have to wait until Nov. 4.
Managers at Connect for Health Colorado initially delayed the online feature until the end of October and in order to secure subsidies, customers have had to call clogged phone lines. Now, a spokesman said in a written response to questions that customers wanting to use the exchange website to cut their health insurance costs will have to wait until Nov. 4, the new target date for Colorado to have an online subsidy application. In the meantime, the only way to get subsidies is by phone at 1-855-PLANS-4-YOU or 1-855-752-6749.
Ben Davis, a spokesman for Connect for Health, also pledged that once the application for credits goes online, customers will be able to get tax rebates even through the federal website has failed to function since both federal and state exchanges launched on Oct. 1.
We have a plan to connect with the federal data services hub for verification activities and, in cases where the connection is unavailable, to allow customers to continue with the application process, Davis said.
He did not elaborate on what that plan is or how Colorados exchange specifically will allow customers to proceed with subsidy applications online when the federal data hub is down.
Davis insisted that problems with the federal system are not affecting Colorado.
The federal marketplace is a completely separate system designed to provide health insurance in other states, he wrote.
Colorados health exchange managers have repeatedly declined to conduct interviews about IT challenges with www.HealthPolicySolutions.org. Managers overseeing the multimillion dollar exchange, which has been funded with public money, will only accept and respond to questions in writing. They also have declined requests to share the behind-the-scenes functions of Colorados exchange.
Both the federal and state exchanges have long been pitched to the public as Travelocity-style online marketplaces for health insurance where customers could buy completely online.
But, even in Colorado, where the exchange appears to be working better than the federal exchange, customers often have to spend 90 minutes or longer with health coverage guides or wait on hold to speak with customer service agents. The process has been anything but a seamless, quick, 100 percent online experience.
That could drive away some key customers: so-called young invincibles, healthy 20-somethings, many of whom prefer to do research and make purchases for everything from athletic shoes to college tuition online.
Clarification: The headline for an earlier version of this story said the date for implementation of the online tax credit system had been extended. Spokesmen for the exchange say it was never expected to be operational before Nov. 4.