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Feds: 42 North Dakotans have selected health insurance plans so far

By James MacPherson

Associated Press

BISMARCK — Only 42 North Dakota residents have successfully signed up for a health insurance plan through a federally run online marketplace during its first month in operation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported Wednesday.

The marketplaces opened for a six-month enrollment period on Oct. 1 as part of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. North Dakota and 35 other states are allowing the federal government to run the insurance marketplaces, where people can compare coverage and prices.

The website has been plagued with problems for the millions of Americans, including thousands of North Dakota who have tried to sign up, said Neil Scharpe, who is in charge of the state’s so-called navigators, whose job is to find uninsured residents and inform them of their options under the new law.

Data show that North Dakota has had the fewest successful sign-ups in the nation.

“It’s the law but to have a law that people can’t access is frustrating for everybody,” Scharpe said. “It aggravates the whole process when the computer system is not working.”

The federal report said the insurance exchange had 969 completed applications from North Dakota through Nov. 2. Those applications sought coverage for 1,845 people, which, for example, include the applicant, spouse and children. Those who complete an application do not have to choose a health care plan immediately, Scharpe said.

The companies selling insurance on the marketplace are Sanford Health, Medica and Blue Cross Blue Shield North Dakota, the state’s largest insurer.

Scharpe said navigators are increasingly directing people to use paper applications instead of filing online.

“We’ve been utilizing paper applications more so in the past couple of weeks,” he said.

Health insurance policies also are being canceled for millions of people nationwide who buy individual policies because they don’t meet the higher benefit requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

State Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm announced last week that nearly 36,000 North Dakotans will have their insurance policies canceled under the new health care law.

Scharpe said people are seeking answers to the new health care law but navigators are trapped in the middle, and many are taking out their frustrations on them.

“There is not much we can to about it because it is operated out of the federal government,” Scharpe said. “People who have tried to sign up are frustrated. We’ve got to get those people back.”