The great news is that we are getting health insurance. The horrible part was healthcare.gov.
We won't lose our health and/or home due to medical care costs. And, as poor people, we are getting tremendous support from the federal government. Thank you tax payers. I think that we are still vulnerable to bankruptcy, but the risk is much less now . Given the opposition, I will overlook the preemptive cave ins and chalk it up to being part of the compromise process.
The application process at healthcare.gov was awful. It is damaging the ACA. I blame the people in offices and above who sit around big tables and decide how to win government contracts and fail to properly implement approved proposals. My narrative is personal, but it highlights potential problems for all users. Read below for details.
First , let me compliment the workers. With one disconnection exception, everyone that we spoke or chatted with was patient and attempted to be helpful with these increasingly frustrated clients. They were hamstrung with insufficient information and a lack of tools necessary for adequate job performance. In my outsider estimation, some big shots should lose their jobs, at least, and contractors should be fined for their malfeasance.
Also of note is that we live in Missouri, where the state has been uncooperative to the point of prohibiting state employees from helping us get insurance through the ACA. A poor web application hands ammunition to critics who are against Obamacare no matter what, and who will take any excuse to derail it, rather than try to improve it.
Our story starts with optimism. We initially filled out the application in one sitting around December 23. It was right before the deadline to obtain insurance starting January 1, 2014. A swamped web site was understandable, so we were not concerned about waiting a short time to begin the process. We got in after a few attempts, filled out an application in about an hour, and provided an electronic signature. No problem, easy peezy lemon squeezy, we're our way to health insurance.
We simply had to wait, which seemed to be indicated by the message in our account that the application was "In progress". Note, identifying information has been whited out in all images.
Which, we did it. Many times. Then, we got the brilliant idea to use the available help.
First, we tried the live chat, as you can see on the bottom right in the above picture. That was completely unhelpful. The person on the other end was there to answer general questions and to hold your hand, but they were not allowed to access our application, or anybody else's for that matter. Where was our application lacking? We would have to look elsewhere to find out?
Then, we tried the phone support. At least they could view our application. Perhaps they could identify where our application was lacking. No, they couldn't. They had no more information specific to our application than we had. Sure, they had reports, rumors and horror stories, but nothing that proved helpful to us.
You would hope that the phone support staff would have dashboards showing the current status of databases and form submissions, and would have access to error messages, missing information, and other problems with individual applications. That hope would be misguided. All that the phone support could do was go through the application with us, again and again, from beginning to end.
In going through the application many times over the course of a month, we did see that some small issues were fixed, such as the issue where it would not allow you to enter your dependents as dependents if you had previously entered then as members of your household. So, there was some progress.
During this time, we identified a few potential problem areas. One was that, as a teenager, I applied for a social security card with a shortened name (e.g. Rob, Joe, Pete, etc), and then used my proper name for a replacement years later. Another was that middle names were optional, but we were trying to include them. Another possibility was that a family member has a green card, and a rumor was that this could lead to an inability to complete an application. Plus, a typical message at the completion of filling out the application was that some systems were unavailable, which a phone rep suggested was due to the green card. Anyway, we filled out the application with many variations, but still no luck.
Nobody seemed to know why our application was not working. In one of our many phone conversations, I learned that there was an advanced resolution team. Upon learning about this powerful advance resolution team, we requested that our question (What's wrong with our application?) be forwarded to advanced resolution. That turned out to be useless. They tried to call, but I was unable to answer. So, they simply left a voice mail stating that advanced resolution called and left me the 800 number that is on healthcare.gov. What a joke.
Over the course of this ordeal, one of the phone support staff took the initiative of filling out a phone application, separate from the online application. Lo and behold, it worked. Halleluiah, we had our first completed application. Plus, the whole family was included.
What sort of wizardry had been performed to create this working application? No one could tell. But, who cares. All that we had to do was to pull up the working application using the application number provided by the kind phone support person.
Completion of our quest required a few more simple steps. We were instructed to wait one day in order to allow the application to percolate through the system, and then to create another account using a different name and email, and log in to this new account and search for the magical working application.
After triple checking the application number, we thanked the person for helping and said good night.
The next day, we created a new account and searched for the magical working application. No luck. We tried again. Same result. We logged out and tried in our original account.
So, we had one search attempt left in the second account. Use it wisely, seeker of insurance. OK, how about if we deleted our existing online application first? Perhaps the system was not showing us our application because it was confused by our online application. Sounds good. We gave it a try. That was unwise. Now, we were locked out of searching for the working application in both accounts.
We tried creating an online application in the second account. Several times. Didn't work.
Consarnit, we couldn't make a working application and we couldn't view the working one created by the phone rep. What could we do? OK, We called back and asked for them to email the application. Nope, couldn't do that. All right, then secure ftp was definitely not an option. Snail mail? Nope. Well, maybe. If you go back and select to have notifications sent by mail, then we could possibly get that application by mail in a week or two. Wait. we just wanted to see this one application. You're telling us that it's either everything by mail or nothing? That's right. They could not just print out this one application and put it in an envelope and mail it.
What the? OK, what were our options? Continue the process of obtaining insurance through the ACA on the phone with the unreviewable working application, continue making attempts to get an online application to work, or buy unsubsidized private insurance outside of healthcare.gov.
We inquired about continuing with the phone process. Could we review our application over the phone? No, we could not. Turns out that the phone people could not view our application once it had been successfully completed. What!!??
Our option for completing the phone process was to use an application that we could not review in writing or over the phone. That was ridiculous, and to demonstrate that, we gave examples. What if we said our income was $200,000, but the phone rep entered $20,000. That would have a big effect on subsidies. Nevertheless, if we wanted to continue with the phone application, then we would have to do it without being able to review the application.
By then, it was around February 1. We had 2 weeks to sort this out in order to be insured March 1. We decided to try the online application for another week, and if it continued to fail, then we would go with the unreviewable phone application.
We tried the online application a few more times, and then, about a week before the February 15 deadline, presto, we succeeded.
At any rate, Hooray, we had successfully completed an application at healthcare.gov. Surely, insurance was just around the next hassle-free corner. Not quite. Insurance policies are complex, you must carefully review them. We could not simply go by the overview information on healthcare.gov.
As a matter of fact, the overview information on healthcare.gov was wrong and misleading. Here is an example.
In the end we went through the summaries and provider directories of several potential plans, and made a few phone calls to the insurance companies before deciding on a plan.
After well over 10 hours of our time (likely 30 or more), along with many hours of support staff time, including two 2 hour and two 1 hour phone calls, along with several shorter ones, we could finally and triumphantly jump up and shout hooray, we have health insurance. Substantial and meaningful outside of corporate profits insurance at that.
On February 27, we received our insurance cards. In a short part 2, I will explain why this is important, and why healthcare.gov causing us to miss the deadline for February 1 might be important.
I want to reiterate that phone support was patient, kind, and as helpful as they were allowed to be. When I engage with employees on the phone, I typically make some small talk and attempt to discern their working conditions. I believe that phone support staff for healthcare.gov are not being treated well. It was not so bad that they were tapping SOS with their pens on the mic, but the phrasing of some answers to my questions was telling. When I asked about how they liked their jobs, there wasn't enthusiasm. It was more like, what can I say while the boss is listening?
Finally, and mysteriously from a taxpayer perspective, is the extent to which the contractor attempted to remain unknown. I asked repeatedly about who the phone people were working for. The initial response was healthcare.gov, and then Health and Human Services. I was directed to send comments and complaints to Kathleen Sebelius. When I followed up with direct questions about who paid them, I was informed that they were not allowed to tell me. I was forced to speak with managers and submit an advance resolution request to get an answer. Eventually, a representative with the advance resolution team called me, and fortunately I answered. They told me that the contractor is General Dynamics Information Technology. I think that this is their website. They have a lot of government work listed, but I didn't see healthcare.gov or the ACA there. None of the following searches returned anything informative for me.
If they are the contractor responsible for healthcare.gov, then they don't seem proud of it. Whoever is responsible should be deeply ashamed. In my opinion, they should be barred from further new federal contracts for some time, and as I already mentioned, some big shots should lose their jobs.