Call center glitches show up before Affordable Care Act launch

Call center glitches show up before Affordable Care Act launch

CHAMPAIGN — Two glitches have emerged in the final days leading up to the launch of Obamacare in Illinois.

The online state call center intended to provide help directing people to the right area of Illinois online health marketplace isn't operating yet, and Illinois consumers will likely need to seek help through the federal call center for a short time.

And the phone number for the call center won't be released until the center is operational, state officials said Thursday afternoon.

The state marketplace, newly named Get Covered Illinois, is the access point for the uninsured to comparison shop for insurance online and apply for coverage to meet the Affordable Care Act's requirement that nearly everyone have health insurance starting next year.

It's also where consumers go to apply for subsidies to help paying for the premiums, and it has been set up to direct income-eligible people to the state Medicaid program.

Small businesses applying for coverage through a separate part of the state marketplace called SHOP — Small business Health Options Program — will need to apply on paper for the first month, said marketplace Director Jennifer Koehler.

Illinois' marketplace is a partnership with the federal government, so the federal government is running a lot of the back-office operations and this small-business function of online enrollment won't be ready come Oct. 1, she said.

Mike Claffey, a spokesman for the state marketplace, said anyone will still be able to look at SHOP plans and make comparisons and submit a paper application or enroll in small-business plans online starting in November. And they'll have plenty of time for all this before the Dec. 15 enrollment deadline for coverage to begin Jan. 1, 2014, he assured.

Expect a soft marketing campaign for the marketplace as enrollment gets underway starting on Tuesday, said Kelly Sullivan, its chief marketing and communication officer.

Consumers will start to see ads directing them to a website and call center. But with a six-month open enrollment period available, she said, the state wants to avoid an overwhelming run on the marketplace at its debut.

"We're looking at this as a marathon, not a sprint," she adds.

Sullivan said marketing will be directed at three basic groups — those who have had insurance before and lost it, those who have never had coverage, and the "young invincibles" (uninsured young adults) complacent about insurance.

Help will be delivered three ways, she said:

— Online at, the marketplace website that will go live Oct. 1.

— By phone: A team of trained Illinois specialists will be available to answer questions. Until the state call center is available, call the federal line, open around-the-clock, at 1-800-318-2596

— In-person community helpers stationed at public health departments and some other locations.

Koehler said 600 in-person assistors have been trained and 600 are scheduled for training in October to help people enroll in the marketplace statewide.

Illinois Department of Insurance Director Andrew Boron said all marketplace plans will have to meet certain requirements — for example, spend at least 80 cents of every premium dollar on care and provide essential health benefits.

The required benefits include ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder services, prescription drugs, rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices, laboratory services, preventive and wellness services, and chronic disease management and pediatric services including oral and vision care.

There will be a range of different kinds of health plan products — PPO, HMO, individual and small group plans — available statewide, Boron said.