NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Well, it's taken me two weeks just to get on the healthcare.gov website and several hours of trying to enroll in the marketplace and apply for a plan, but I finally did it and the result was nothing. Why? Because I made mistakes on my application, there are glitches in the system and because I am requested to send in income verification documents which will probably delay me further in choosing or even seeing a healthcare plan I can afford.
The healthcare.gov site does allow those visiting the site from states that have not set up their own exchanges to see the costs and plans offered in their state without any subsidies applied – and I've heard from many who have found it to be cheaper than what they were paying privately, even without subsidies.
If you don't know if your state is on the federal exchange or has its own exchange you can find out by clicking "Find the marketplace in your state" on the tiles across the bottom and entering your state.
How is the application supposed to work to determine eligibility online and on the spot?
Now, you might wonder, as I did, why I am being requested to send documentation of my income in the form of paper documents, because a website project this huge should include linking or accessibility to at least the IRS. So I called up the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Office of Communications (a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) to ask.
That's how I learned about "The Hub" (officially called the Data Services Hub), which was created to help verify information used to determine eligibility for subsidies and inclusion in a marketplace plan in real time. It provides access to the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Medicare, TRICARE, the Peace Corps and the Office of Personnel Management.
It didn't work at all for me, but I think this process works in a straightforward way for someone with one job and a simple W-2. But for those who are self-employed or have other sources of income such as investments or rental income, alimony, etc., verification may be necessary.
Wondering about the security of your private information?
CMS has security and privacy agreements with all federal agencies and states connecting to the Hub. According to the official press release, The Hub increases efficiency and security by eliminating the need for each marketplace, Medicaid agency, and CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) agency to set up separate data connections to each database. Security risks decrease when the number of connections to a data source decreases, and The Hub was also built with several layers of protection in place to decrease personal information security risk.
There are glitches in the system...and I made mistakes
The CMS office admits there are glitches in the system and says the organization is working overnight and seeing improvements. Still, this has me wondering if this is another case of something important in the federal government built by the lowest bidder. The press office said that CGI Federal was awarded the contract to build the federal marketplace out of four proposals received for the project. But I am still waiting to hear back in which order CGI's bid appeared in terms of price.
I did notice errors in my application upon completion that I could not correct or edit, because the wrongly answered questions do not appear on the original questionnaire or in the edit field. That's a definite glitch. The incorrectly-answered questions are about tax filing plans and income for my teenage children, of which two out of three have jobs. Also, there was no particular button for reporting unemployment income, and I didn't list it under my husband's income, because I didn't know to put it there.
Additionally, I incorrectly answered the question on whether or not my children are eligible for a state CHIP. I wrongly thought CHIP meant Medicaid, but the CMS press office set me straight: CHIP is any state subsidized health insurance coverage you pay for a child through age 18 and two of my three kids have been on one called Florida Healthy Kids for 12 years. For-pay CHIPS, like Florida Healthy Kids, are offered to income levels above the Medicaid eligibility cut-offs and provide subsidies up to 200% of the Federal Poverty Limit, only for children.
"The application system is supposed to recognize a CHIP child," says Rich Robleto, executive director for Florida Healthy Kids. "If a child is already eligible for a CHIP and covered by one, then they are not eligible for subsidies on a marketplace plan."
This was a major gap in my knowledge especially since my application came back saying my kids were eligible for a marketplace plan, so it may or may not have been my mistake. Robleto's answer: "I wouldn't put a lot of stock in the appropriate functionality of healthcare.gov at this time."
I called the marketplace help-line main number at 1-800-318-2596 to ask how to edit my application and was told it was not possible for them to do it. I have to wait two more days to be called back by someone who can help me fix my application.
Another glitch in the system is that my determination letter (the one telling me to send income verification and that my kids are - maybe wrongly - eligible for marketplace insurance) also says I can submit my verification electronically by logging in to the website.
So I logged in (after gathering them all up) and couldn't find any button to do it. I decided to try online chat again. The last time I tried online chat to get answers, I found that all they do is find the exact or similar topic of information from the healthcare.gov website and they copy and paste it as their answer.
So, I type my question in the chat box:
[11:27:12 am]: Naomi
It says on my determination letter I can submit income verification online but how do you do it?
[Completely unrelated long copied and pasted explanation about putting your application ID# on any correspondence, etc...]
[11:32:19 am]: Naomi
It says on my letter they can be submitted electronically by logging in to my account - is that possible or no?
[11:35:21 am]: Iva
Not right now, because the system is down for receiving the information electronically.
So, I'm thinking maybe I should have just waited a few more weeks or even a month before trying to apply and submitting my application. Maybe the bugs will be worked out by then, and anyway we have until March 31 to enroll in a plan, although I want healthcare that begins on January 1.
I am worried about mistakes and glitches affecting my determination of eligibility for subsidies as that amount affects my tax filing status at the end of the 2014. A press release from Center for CMS Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight division states, "The IRS will reconcile advance payments of the premium tax credit when consumers file their annual tax returns at the end of the year, and it will recoup overpayments and provide refunds when appropriate." I am worried about the overpayment part because it means being socked with an unanticipated tax bill.
Additionally, a friend of mine asked his accountant some questions about how his subsidies, if any, would affect his taxes, and his accountant said he was still uncertain of all of the tax laws and implications.
--Written by Naomi Mannino for MainStreet