October 18, 2013 10:48AM
By ERIKA NIEDOWSKI
PROVIDENCE — More individuals and small businesses in Rhode Island have signed up for insurance coverage under the federal health care overhaul than expected, the head of the new state-run marketplace said Wednesday.
At a state Senate briefing, Director Christine Ferguson said nearly 2,000 have signed up through HealthSource RI during its first two weeks of open enrollment. The number of enrollees includes those who have paid and those who have payments pending.
About 7,000 accounts have been created, Ferguson said. There have been 9,000 calls to the Providence-based customer service center, 550 walk-ins and more than 53,000 unique website visits.
Ferguson has not publicly released enrollment targets for Jan. 1, when most Americans will be required to have coverage under the Affordable Care Act, or face a small financial penalty. The marketplace, sometimes known as an exchange, estimates that between 70,000 and 100,000 people will use it through the end of next year.
Ferguson told senators that the launch in Rhode Island has been relatively smooth. On the first day, visitors overwhelmed the site, causing temporary access problems for some.
But the problem was quickly corrected.
“We’ve had relatively few glitches compared to other parts of the country,” she said.
The rollout of the federally run marketplaces has been plagued by technical problems, many of them related to bureaucratic delays that pushed back the production of software.
Rhode Island has received more than $80 million in federal grants to build, launch and operate the exchange. The federal government has said the exchanges must be self-sufficient beginning in 2015, leaving open the question of how the states will pay for them.
In a budget blueprint recently submitted to Gov. Lincoln Chafee for fiscal year 2015, HealthSource RI detailed spending of $25.8 million. All of it is listed as federal money.
Ferguson said Wednesday the state may be able to push the spending of some of the federal funds into 2015. She declined to say whether she expected federal funds to get the exchange through the end of the next fiscal year or, if not, how much in state funds she intends to request. She said she is in discussions with Chafee’s office.
Ferguson told the House Finance Committee last month that she estimated the annual cost for the state to operate the exchange would be between $17.9 million and $23.9 million.
The state may not use general revenue to operate the exchange under a 2011 executive order signed by Chafee.
About 120,000 people in Rhode Island do not have health insurance.