The government is claiming that the Health Insurance Marketplace will now operate smoothly for the “vast majority” of users. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday checked in with three people who have spent scores of hours trying to use the exchange since it opened Oct. 1. The experience wasn’t exactly smooth for any of them.
Robert Shlora, Alpharetta
Shopping online and over the phone, Shlora has faced roadblock after roadblock in his quest to sign up for coverage through the marketplace.
Shlora is paying nearly $2,800 a month for health insurance for himself, his wife and their son and hasn’t been able to shop around for years because of pre-existing conditions. The health law was expected to offer him much more affordable options. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been closely following Shlora’s experience since the Marketplace opened.
On Saturday, the marketplace website still failed him. But he believed he had a breakthrough after a telephone operator said she could process the application he has been working on for two months and send his information over to Humana. He could call Humana Monday to arrange payment, she said.
“They told me, ‘You’re good — you’re all set,’” Shlora said.
When he called Humana Monday morning, however, the insurer said it had no record of his application. The insurer’s phone rep said she would research the issue and call him back. She did call him back with bad news: after further research she still found no record of his application.
Shlora called HealthCare.gov back, and the telephone rep insisted he was enrolled with Humana, but could offer him no way to prove it.
“Humana said check with them by the end of the week and maybe it will mysteriously appear,” Shlora said.
Greg Paulauskis, Marietta
Paulauskis, an early retiree who buys his own health insurance, has also been trying to shop for coverage for himself and his wife since the day the Health Insurance Marketplace opened.
The AJC has also been closely following Paulauskis’ experience. Like Shlora, he has run into a series of frustrating obstacles.
On Monday, he noticed that the website was quicker and that its appearance had changed. He tried to access his application that had been “completed” over the phone with a representative, so that he could finally get to the step of selecting a plan. But the application wasn’t visible on the site. He called and went through another lengthy process to be told, again, what he’s heard before: he can’t see the plans on the site, but the operator could read plan information to him.
Paulauskis isn’t comfortable making a decision without seeing all the options in writing. The supervisor handling his call told him she could put in a work order and someone would call him back. Paulauskis said he’s made such a request five times since the Marketplace opened and has yet to get a response.
A former college professor with a PhD, Paulauskis said he has probably spent more than 80 hours on the Obamacare application process without being able to actually shop for a plan. That didn’t change on Monday with the improvements to the Marketplace website.
“I may be beating my head against a wall, but I still have a smile on my face,” Paulauskis said Monday.
Ted Officer, insurance broker
The government’s improvements to the federal web site were apparent to some Georgians.
Officer, a broker with Alpharetta-based USA-Healthinsurance.com, has been trying to process applications for hundreds of customers through the Health Insurance Marketplace. He’d had almost no success until Sunday, when he found that he was able to get the application process to work from beginning to end for one of his customers. He has since been able to process others, too.
The website is still slow, Officer said, and requires up to hour to complete an application during peak times.
“It is functional, but it’s like watching paint dry,” he said.
Officer said he has been getting 10 to 30 applications a day from consumers who want to buy coverage through the Marketplace.
“As some point, I have got to get them entered in,” he said.
Brokers are paid commissions by insurance companies and do not charge individuals who are trying to sign up.
Officer said consumers can benefit from working with a broker to sign up, because brokers are familiar with the details of the various plans that private insurers are offering on the Health Insurance Marketplace, including which doctors and hospitals are included in the various plans. He said brokers can also help with claims, billing or other issues that might come up after someone buys a plan.