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Blue Cross denies it was asked to withhold enrollment data

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News Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
(701) 225-4205 customer support
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

FARGO -- Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota says a company official "misunderstood internal discussions" when he said the Obama administration asked the state's largest health insurer to keep quiet about how many people had enrolled so far through the new online marketplace.

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Spokeswoman Andrea Dinneen said in a statement Wednesday that the company had received no such request from the federal government. She said the company had only been discussing whether or not to share enrollment data.

"Normally, BCBSND does not release sales figures, especially on a real-time basis. But we made an exception with current enrollment data on the Health Insurance Marketplace because we felt it would help our members and all North Dakotans understand the experience they could expect if they tried to use the new Marketplace right now," she said in a written response to a reporter's questions.

At a company-organized forum Monday in Fargo on the ins and outs of the Affordable Care Act, consumer sales manager James Nichol told the crowd the Obama administration earlier that day had asked Blue Cross not to release enrollment numbers.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's story about Nichol's statement was widely circulated on conservative-leaning news websites Wednesday, including Breitbart.com and the Drudge Report.

An official from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, one of the main federal agencies handling the federal marketplace, would not directly address questions about the alleged request.

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.

Officials in many of the 14 states that set up their own marketplace, which includes Minnesota, have released some preliminary numbers. Minnesota officials said last week that about 3,700 had begun the process of enrolling for health insurance through its 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 have been the only avenue to get enrollment figures until federal officials release statistics, likely sometime in mid-November.

Twenty North Dakotans have enrolled for health insurance through the new federal health exchange, according to figures from the three North Dakota companies offering coverage on the marketplace.

Online exchanges that sell health insurance are a key aspect of the reform law signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama, commonly known as Obamacare. The federal version of the exchange, healthcare.gov, has been plagued by traffic issues and widespread glitches since it went live about three weeks ago.

Dinneen said Blue Cross is encouraging North Dakotans to wait "several weeks" before enrolling to allow time for the technical issues to be resolved.

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