Health Insurance Exchanges are Open! …or maybe not

Here is a column I wrote for my local newspaper this week. So many people told me how much they enjoyed reading it that I wanted to reprint it here.

I’m tired of hearing political debates about health insurance. I really just want someone to fix it.

I’m too busy living in the mess to waste time placing blame about who caused it. (Although, I do have my own opinions about the goofballs who decided that forcing health insurance companies to pay for so many extra benefits would be a good thing for those who have to pay the increased insurance rates.)

My family has health insurance only because I have COBRA coverage from my previous job, but that coverage is quickly coming to an end. Since my husband doesn’t have coverage through his employer and I work part-time jobs, we pay for the pricey coverage because it’s kind of all we can get.

That coverage will run out in March, and then we’ll be up the proverbial creek without a health insurance paddle.

In theory, we should be able to get health insurance from the state’s health care exchange. But Kansas decided to let the federal government take care of its own confusing, expensive mess by hosting the Kansas exchange instead of having a separate state-run site.

Unfortunately, it seems the federal government is exercising its usual incompetence, this time by designing a website that doesn’t function.

The exchange opened on Oct. 1 with dismal failure. The site crashed multiple times and was too overloaded to process applications. I tried dozens of times a day to access it with no luck.

I couldn’t even find out how much health insurance will cost for my family because I couldn’t get into the site to fill out an application.

It’s like trying to buy something on Amazon but you can’t see the prices until you put the item in your cart. Oh,and you can’t see your cart because the website is down.

After days of trying, I decided to call tech support since I was getting apparently random error messages from the site. I waited over 20 minutes on hold to get a real person, but the tech support folks said “just keep trying.” They suggested the middle of the night when the site might be less busy.

Apparently, the government gurus don’t understand that I have a job and a life that doesn’t afford me the luxury of camping out on their website to “keep trying.”

Finally, after trying multiple times a day for over a week, I was able to log in and fill out most of an application.

The process was ridiculously long and time-consuming since the slow-loading webpages reloaded as each new bit of information was added.

It took me nearly two hours to complete the application, but after all that time, the site wouldn’t let me submit it because my identity wasn’t “verified.”

Seriously, people, I’m not a terrorist. I just wanted to find out how much health insurance will cost!

Verification involved a phone call to Experian, the government’s contracted verification service.

Experian isn’t open during the late-night hours when the website was available.

And when I called Experian the next day, they weren’t able to verify my info based on current data. The girl on the phone suggested I call the government people back to figure out what to do.

At this point, I lost my cool. I had too many years of government nonsense in the military to play a game of it’s-not-my-problem-so-try-another-office.

I insisted she try again, and she was finally able to verify me based on two-year-old data. Let me get this straight…my identity couldn’t be verified based on current data, but two-year-old data is fine to prove I’m not cheating the system?!

I wasn’t able to get back into the website to submit my application until a few days after being “verified.” At this point, I discovered that I still could not submit my application.

The site forced me to go back through each page, waiting what seemed like forever for the pages to reload.

Again, at least an hour wasted only to find I still wasn’t verified in the government system so I still couldn’t submit my application.

Admittedly, my patience for this process was already wearing so thin you could see through it. So I called tech support back.

“Try another browser,” the girl said. As if my browser has anything to do with their system’s verification issues. Besides, I’d already tried three different browsers.

She told me the tech support people are looking at the same website the public looks at; they can’t see anything more than that, so she couldn’t help me.

I told her that wasn’t good enough, so she called a supervisor.

Unlike most private companies, the government won’t let callers talk directly to supervisors. Instead, the first person I talked to gets to talk to her supervisor then relay the information to me as if we’re in a government game of telephone.

Her supervisor supposedly had the same advice, so I hung up the phone.

Not believing that advice, I called back immediately and talked to another person. This one couldn’t help me either but at least did not try to suggest that my browser was the problem.

After another game of telephone, she said her supervisor couldn’t help, so she walked me through the process I was supposed to be able to use to apply.

It didn’t work.

“You’re doing everything right,” she told me. “I don’t know why it’s not working.”

Welcome to my world.

She elevated my case to their “advanced” tech support team and someone is supposed to call me in a few days. I won’t be holding my breath.

At this point, I’m torn between frustration over the incompetence of a system that is supposed to solve our country’s healthcare woes and gratefulness that the government system is only managing insurance rather than actually attempting to provide medical care.

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One thought on “Health Insurance Exchanges are Open! …or maybe not

  1. Mary Beth October 28, 2013 at 12:06 pm Reply

    I’m there with you. I live in Kansas too. My husband has insurance through work. We have insurance for the kids through the state’s insurance program. But I don’t have insurance. (To add me to my husband’s insurance would cost us around $500 per month.)

    I tried using the government website just to see how much insurance would cost & was never even able to get past setting up an account. From what I can tell I probably wouldn’t qualify since I can get insurance through my husband’s work (just can’t afford it – HA!). But I did want to see if there was something I could afford.

    I think I will just find insurance on my own or pay the fine. The bad thing is that the insurance policies that I can afford don’t cover anything. I spend basically $200 out-of-pocket per year on my one doctor appointment each year. It is frustrating that I will have to pay thousands in insurance and probably still have to pay my $200 office visit each year. So actually I will be losing a lot of money – or paying a fine. UGHH!

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