LAS VEGAS — The rollout of Nevada's health insurance exchange last year was a certifiable flop: Website glitches left people without coverage they paid for, enrollments were less than one-third of what state officials predicted, and complications led to a lawsuit against the state and its contractor, Xerox.
But officials with Nevada Health Link, the state exchange, are optimistic things will improve now that they have scrapped a $75 million deal with Xerox and are using the infrastructure of the federal HealthCare.gov website.
The switch has major consequences for people who signed up for coverage through Nevada Health Link last year — they must sign up again once the open enrollment period begins Saturday or they will lose any subsidies they have received when the new year starts.
"We have a fairly aggressive messaging campaign," said exchange director Bruce Gilbert, noting that TV commercials, emails and mailers are going out to the 36,827 people who bought insurance plans through Nevada Health Link.
The health insurance exchanges, part of the Affordable Care Act, offer taxpayer-subsidized private coverage to people who do not have it through their employer.
If Nevada enrollees don't sign up again through the state's site from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, they will still have health insurance come Jan. 1 but will lose income-based subsidies from the government. Open enrollment closes Feb. 15.
"It's difficult to make sure all of your folks who went through this nightmarish process are made aware that they need to start over again," said Matt Callister, a lawyer leading a lawsuit against Xerox and Nevada. He said he hears complaints daily from people having trouble with insurance they acquired through the program.
"We certainly hope it'll go better and smoother than last time," Callister said.
Nevada Health Link fell far short of its goal of signing up 118,000 people for private insurance during the first open enrollment period last year.
It did a better job at connecting people to free coverage through government-funded Medicaid — it helped 159,093 people enroll in that program. Nevada is one of 28 states that have chosen to expand eligibility for the program that serves low-income people, allowing single men and people with slightly higher incomes to receive benefits for the first time.
The reworked exchange website will start with a short survey about a person's age, income and employment situation. Based on the responses, visitors will be directed to either Access Nevada, where they can sign up for Medicaid, or HealthCare.Gov, where they can shop for insurance on the federal marketplace and see what subsidies they might qualify to receive.
That should save time and frustration for consumers, who previously needed to complete an application before they were told if they were eligible for Medicaid.
The state is expanding its efforts to raise awareness about the program and the potential fines Nevadans face if they fail to get health insurance. Nevada Health Link is launching two storefronts Saturday that will be staffed with employees who can help visitors enroll.
One is inside Las Vegas' Boulevard Mall and the other is in a Reno strip mall at 3937 S. McCarran Blvd. The storefronts will be open seven days a week and for consistent hours — even during the evening.
"If the process is significantly better, our hope is we'll have a higher number of enrollees," Gilbert said.
Nevada started out with a state-run exchange but is now one of three states in the nation with a federally supported exchange after dumping Xerox.