Exchange works to shield insured Coloradans

DENVER - Nervous directors of the Colorado Health Benefits Exchange pressed Monday for ways to improve their system to make sure many Coloradans don't lose insurance on New Year's Day.

The Affordable Care Act championed by President Barack Obama was designed to deliver health insurance to most Americans, either through government-run Medicaid or through private insurance sold through an online marketplace.

Only 3,408 Coloradans signed up for private insurance through the state website - - in its first month, while 34,168 people joined Medicaid.

Meanwhile, insurance companies canceled policies for about 250,000 Coloradans, often because they don't meet the minimum standards of the Affordable Care act.

Directors of the exchange worried at their board meeting Monday that all those people who lost their policies will bombard the system ahead of Dec. 15, the deadline to secure coverage for 2014.

They admit their application process is clunky, because people who shop on the exchange have to leave the website and apply for Medicaid first.

Once they're denied, they can possibly get a subsidy to buy a private policy through the exchange.

Donna Smith, a cancer patient, is a prime example of the problem.

Smith testified Monday that she is one of the people in Medicaid limbo.

She didn't lose her insurance, but she wants to ditch her $875 a month "lousy Aetna policy" and buy a policy through the exchange.

But her application is hung up while the state determines if she qualifies for Medicaid, even though she's fairly certain she makes too much money to qualify.

Sue Birch, director of the state's Medicaid agency, said the backlog is shrinking every day, and 80 percent of applicants get an answer within two days.

Steve ErkenBrack, an exchange director and vice president of Rocky Mountain Health Plans, is worried about a rush on Dec. 15 to secure insurance policies.

The Colorado Health Benefits Exchange and the state government plan to create a single application for both Medicaid and private insurance.

But that won't be in place until October, when enrollment for 2015 policies begins.