Health Inc.

Colorado's Exchange Opens After Years of Bipartisan Effort

Colorado has taken its own route to building a health exchange.

hide captionColorado has taken its own route to building a health exchange.

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Colorado's health care exchange opened as planned today, at 8 am Mountain time. Not long after that, the website started scrolling a message: "Due to overwhelming interest, we are temporarily suspending the creation of accounts, please continue to browse plans."

The state has been planning for this day since 2007, when leaders from both political parties in the state started talking about overhauling health care. It's one of just 16 states that chose to create its own health insurance exchange, rather than using one run by the federal government.

"It's been a long history," says Gretchen Hammer, chairwoman of the board for Colorado's exchange. She says the state's effort was rooted in the bipartisan nature of those early conversations, as well as a practical approach to improving health care. Back then, she says, people were thinking: "The health care system isn't meeting the needs of everyone in Colorado, and we want to work together to figure out how to make that happen."

Even though people weren't able to actually buy coverage online this morning because of the website's technical issues, Kevin Finder says the Connect for Health Colorado site is still useful. He logged on to it a little after 9 am.

"It guides you from the very beginning on," Finder says, pointing at the screen. "You can see under "get started," it says "shop now", or "Are you in the right place?"

Finder is a "health coverage guide" at Metro Community Provider Network, a clinic for low-income people in Englewood, Colo. His job is to help people use the new marketplace to find affordable coverage. He says he's heard plenty of skepticism about Obamacare from patients, and he's looking forward to using the website to get them past that.

"The main message we wanna get out there is: Just give it a try," Finder says. "Look and see what financial assistance you're gonna get. Take a few minutes. You see how quickly the eligibility part went? And now it says we can go on to the next step and find a plan."

Finder says his clinic is reaching out to both existing patients and the larger surrounding community to let them know that they may have new options for getting health coverage, and that they're there to help.

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