CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginians trying to sign up online for health insurance through the state's expanded Medicaid program or the Health Insurance Marketplace "overwhelmed" West Virginia's system on the first day of open enrollment, causing it to shut down for a time.
Those who tried using the state's call center to enroll had to wait up to 15 minutes to enroll, Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said during a news conference Tuesday.
A spokesman for the state's Office of the Insurance Commissioner said the website slowed down because a lot of people tried to use it. It wasn't clear Tuesday how many people used the website to either purchase a plan or find out more information.
Open enrollment began Tuesday and will continue through March 2014. Coverage for both Medicaid and plans under the Health Insurance Exchange will begin in January.
Despite a federal government shutdown, the Affordable Care Act has been funded and will not be affected, Bryant said.
Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield is the only insurance company in West Virginia to offer plans on the Health Insurance Marketplace. There are 13 plans total in the marketplace, but two are multi-state plans by the Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Fred Earley, president of Highmark, said. Highmark West Virginia will offer 11 different insurance plans, he said.
Plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace are divided into categories: platinum, gold, silver and bronze.
Platinum plans have the highest premiums and lowest out-of-pocket costs. Bronze plans have the lowest premiums and the highest out-of-pocket costs.
Highmark will not offer platinum plans because West Virginians don't typically buy those types of plans in the private market, Earley said. State residents typically buy gold, silver, bronze or catastrophic-type plans, he said.
"That's what we decided to focus to best meet the needs of the West Virginia demographic as determined by prior purchasing patterns," Earley said.
Earley disagreed with some who speculated that with only one insurer in the marketplace, West Virginia's rates would be higher than if more companies had joined. The rates were set in June, when Highmark officials thought there would be a variety of companies in the marketplace, he said.
"I think it's fair to say there are competitive rates for competitive plans in the West Virginia Marketplace and I encourage people to look at them," Earley said.
Rates vary by age and which of six areas in the state a person lives in, Earley said. There are also different rates for tobacco and non-tobacco users, he said.