Pa. residents see some upgrades on health website

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – The federal government’s beleaguered health insurance website is better than it was, but still far from flawless, according to Pennsylvanians who are trying to help other residents use it to obtain health coverage.

In Harrisburg, Roberta Vann, a certified application counselor at the Hamilton Health Center, reported a noticeable improvement in the operation of Healthcare.gov Monday morning.

On a typical day, 10 to 12 people seek the center’s assistance on matters involving the new insurance marketplace.

“It’s the hope that it’s now operational and we can move forward. What has been corrected has been working quite smoothly,” Vann said.

Within an hour she called back with an update, sounding a bit frustrated.

“The system is down. You can get to a point, but it does not allow you to select any plans, you can’t get eligibility (information). It stops there,” she said. “The thought of it working as well as it was didn’t last long.”

Across the state in McKees Rocks, just outside Pittsburgh, another certified application counselor who was helping a couple use the website successfully created an account for the husband but was unable to create one for his wife because the site bogged down.

David Bytnar, who works for the Sto-Rox Neighborhood Health Council Inc. in Pittsburgh, was philosophical about the glitch.

“I have faith that it should be taken care of as the day moves along,” he said, comparing the website to a funnel that allows only so much material to pass through at a time.

Bytnar, who said he sees one person if it’s a slow day and four on a busy day, said he’s most interested in making sure the people who seek his help are satisfied.

“I try to give people whatever time they may need,” he said. “My job is not a sales job.”

Policies sold through the Healthcare.gov, a gateway to the health care law’s insurance marketplace, promise comprehensive insurance plans subsidized by tax credits that are supposed to make them more affordable for lower- and medium-income families.

Pennsylvania is relying on a federally run insurance marketplace, like 35 other states, because Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, declined to take on the task. Signup rates for people seeking insurance have been higher and online glitches fewer in states running their own programs.

Coverage begins Jan. 1 and the initial enrollment period continues until March 31.

To qualify for the tax credits that subsidize insurance plans sold on the marketplaces, people must earn between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or between $23,550 and $94,200 annually for a family of four. They must also be ineligible for affordable coverage from an employer or from Medicaid or Medicare.

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