NEW YORK (MainStreet) Well, after three long months of frustration with the Healthcare.gov website and rigmarole, I finally bought a new health insurance plan last week through the Healthcare.gov marketplace. I was stalling and waited until the last minute, afraid to use the system. My fear was based on my error-ridden application from October 23, a request for paper income verification and then an inability to edit the application to make changes to it.
Finally, last week, as the December 23 deadline was drawing near, I had to try again. After waiting on hold for 42 minutes, I was told by the phone representative to remove my existing troubled application and simply to re-apply. I was horrified at the thought of re-starting the whole process all over again and almost gave up, just planning to buy the insurance privately, but the phone agent assured me that the system is running much better now. She said I will be able to quickly reapply (even though, at the time of the call, she was getting error messages and not able to log in on her side to my current application). She advised me to log in at 7:30 in the morning, when traffic to the Healthcare.gov website is at its lightest.
So, the next morning, I resigned myself to the process, hit the "delete application" button and started anew. I did notice some changes to the application as I went through it again, compared to my first experience. The data hub (whereby state and federal agencies work together to provide digital access to income and eligibility information for immediate verification) is up and running and there is an added question which made the whole application at least one hour easier to fill out: "Will your income be similar or the same as that filed on your 2012 income taxes?" Since mine will be, I checked the box -- and that's all I had to do, as 2012 income can be immediately verified through the IRS.
A minute later, I received the eligibility notice for the subsidy, and went directly to compare the different plans. I did have to spend additional time calling plan providers to ask the difference between specific plans (because it was not apparent to me) and to ask about providers, and then I chose a gold plan I thought I could afford in both premiums and the deductions (in case I need to use more healthcare services than planned).
Success with Healthcare.gov is a highly personal experience
This past Sunday, my local newspaper, The Tampa Bay Times, ran a story about Florida Bay area residents' different experiences and results with the Health Insurance Marketplace that hit a chord with me. One woman had the same experience over the past three months as I did. After all the errors and frustrations, the result was the successful purchase of a new plan. Another who also deleted her old application and tried anew without success, but plans to keep trying. Another single young man who was going to pay the fine because he didn't want to deal with the website decided to give it a try and found he qualified for a subsidy; he successfully enrolled in a plan he could afford. Another person who went through the application process sadly found she was caught in the Florida Medicaid gap (too poor for federal subsidies but above the Florida Medicaid eligibility because Florida chose not to expand Medicaid eligibility as many other states did.) And there was another man who bought privately because he didn't think any small subsidy he might qualify for would be worth all the frustration of the process.
My brother, who bought a plan through the New York State exchange, had to call up Healthcare.gov and apply additionally to receive federal subsidy eligibility for his family of four and was glad he took the extra steps to do so, because it reduced his premiums which were previously over $1,000 per month.
Don't give up; you still have time...
Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced additional steps to help consumers who are seeking health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace apply and receive health insurance January 1, 2014.
"We are providing additional flexibility to consumers across the country to ensure they have access to coverage options that begin on January 1, 2014," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in a recent press call.
One way the administration is working to provide consumers with a smooth transition to coverage is allowing people who apply after the December 23 deadline to get coverage starting January 1 or sooner than February.
Another way to make it easier for consumers is requiring insurers to accept payment through December 31 for coverage that will begin January 1, and urging issuers to give consumers additional time to pay their first month's premium and still have coverage beginning January 1, 2014.
So, the moral of the story is, if you are eligible to purchase insurance through the health insurance marketplace and have not done it yet because you are frustrated with the system, not sure how it works, not sure of your eligibility for subsidies or think you can't afford it, don't give up. Log on to Healthcare.gov (early in the morning) and give it a try again. You might be pleasantly surprised.
--Written by Naomi Mannino for MainStreet