Department of Health Director Says Start of Health Exchange Enrollment ‘Big Day for America’

Today marked the beginning of the enrollment period for health care exchanges through the Affordable Care Act. Dr. Jaime Torres, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that his goal is to reach all 900,0000 eligible New Jerseyans during the enrollment period.

Torres called the start of the enrollment period “a big day for America.” He added that he wasn’t surprised that not too many people have gone to locations to sign up today because residents have six months to enroll.

Some have reported website glitches and slowdowns on the site. Torres attributes that to a high amount of traffic. “We had over a million hits before 7 o’clock this morning. This is five times the amount that people visit, so as you can see, people are very, very excited. And I think we’re working on those glitches. The system will be corrected and will be expanded. Again, this is just the first day. We have six months that you’ll be able to visit,” he said. “In addition we have the 800 number [800-318-2596] that people can call in, get information and enroll by phone.”

Torres is encouraged by the high amount of traffic on the website, saying it shows many people are eager to learn more. “That’s the first step. We have to educate people. In New Jersey, over 900,000 people will become eligible for the health insurance marketplace and almost 800,000 of them will be eligible either for Medicaid or subsidies that will help pay for their health insurance,” he said.

He said his goal is to reach the 900,000 eligible New Jerseyans.

Gov. Chris Christie decided New Jersey would use the federal government’s health care exchange system instead of having its own. Torres said there is no difference for the consumer. “I think the main difference is the funding that is available. A state-based marketplace has more funding because that’s how the law was designed.” He added that states can choose to go to a local marketplace system in 2015.

Torres said whatever the funding, his office is committed to working to ensure all eligible New Jerseyans know their options. He said they’re working with navigators, counselors and volunteer groups to get the word out.

Three companies have signed on to offer health insurance and Torres expects that number to grow. “I have great confidence that these will be successful,” he said, which will take away the fear of the unknown for other insurance companies.

Those who sign up through the health care exchanges can choose from a number of different options based on a metal scale of Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Torres said the different levels change the amount of consumers’ co-pays.

Part of the health care exchange policy is to sign up young people. Torres explained that catastrophic coverage is offered for individuals between 26 and 30 years old, which offers more basic coverage than other plans, but does offer preventative care and emergency room visits for a lower cost.

Torres said New Jersey is also doing a Medicaid expansion, which he says is huge for the state. “That means that any individual — men, women, with children, without children — the only criteria is how much money you make. If you make around $15,000 for one individual, you may be eligible to receive Medicaid. And we’re talking about many working folks in the Garden State who are making that amount of money and have no insurance,” he said. “So this is a game changer for New Jersey.”