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N.D. official: Feds ask Blue Cross Blue Shield not to release exchange numbers

Kyle Potter | Forum News Service

The Obama administration asked North Dakota’s largest health insurer not to publicize how many people have signed up for health insurance through a new online exchange, a company official says.

During a forum Monday in Fargo for people interested in signing up for coverage via the exchange, James Nichol of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota told the crowd his company received the request from the federal government earlier Monday. Nichol is a consumer sales manager for the company.

Still, a spokeswoman from Blue Cross Blue Shield says about 14 North Dakotans have signed up for coverage since the federal exchange went live Oct. 1. That brings total statewide enrollment to 20 – less than one a day.

Spokeswoman Andrea Dinneen said Tuesday that while Blue Cross generally does not release its internal sales numbers, it has in this case because the problematic rollout of the federal health care exchange is a “unique situation.”

Dinneen said she didn’t have any information about the directive that Nichol referenced Monday night.

An official from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, one of main the federal agencies handling the federal marketplace, would not directly address questions about the request made of Blue Cross Blue Shield, including whether other insurers were also asked to keep quiet about enrollment.

Representatives from the two other North Dakota companies offering coverage on the federal exchange – Medica and Sanford Health – said they had not received similar directions.

It’s just the latest example of the federal government trying to keep enrollment numbers under wraps during the first few weeks of the new health care exchange.

Officials in many of the 14 states that set up their own marketplace, which includes Minnesota, have released some preliminary numbers for applications received for coverage. Minnesota officials said last week that about 3,700 had begun the process of enrolling for health insurance through the marketplace, called MNsure.

But in North Dakota and the 35 other states that let the federal government take the lead on the exchange, releases from individual insurers like Blue Cross Blue Shield are the only avenue to get enrollment figures until federal officials release statistics, likely sometime in mid-November.

The exchanges route health insurance shoppers to providers that offer plans that qualify for the various rules and regulations of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.

In North Dakota, there are three providers: Medica, Sanford and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

In an interview after the Blue Cross Blue Shield event at the Ramada in Fargo, Nichol said he had no further information about the administration’s instructions Monday.

Medica spokesman Greg Bury said the company had received enrollment files but had not yet verified them and thus did not have an enrollment count.

Sanford had enrolled six customers as of Tuesday, spokesman Darren Huber said.

“It’s really still too early to be counting enrollees in the program,” Huber wrote in an email. “We need to give the program time to work.”

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