A little over a year ago I wrote about our experiences with Healthcare.gov, the Marketplace health site. As everyone knows, the launch was a disaster. The system crashed and kept crashing for almost the entire enrollment period. I was able to get a policy to carry me from January until Medicare started in May without too many problems.
Betty was another matter. Her application and data were so messed up we finally had to fight our way through to the Resolution Center to resolve her situation. That is not easy to do. Those folks are protected from "customers" like the gold in Fort Knox. You can read about that fun time by clicking here.
So, billions of dollars and thousands of man hours later, what happened this year? Betty's insurance company was not offering the policy she finally got last year, so she had to go through the application process again. Certainly, things would zip right along, right?
Wrong. We got into the same mess this time around. The web site continually crashed the first two days it was opened, and only functioned sporadically after that for at least two more days. Betty's incorrect information from a year ago continued to haunt our attempts to complete an application. Her application was complete, then incomplete, then verified, then needed to be verified....exactly like before.
The folks on the phone can't do a thing: they use the same web site that anyone uses, so when it is in the toilet they are powerless. When it finally works, they are unable to fix something that is causing problems. Calling the 800 number only increases your frustration and does not solve a problem.
Like last year we tried the Advanced Resolution Center but the protective walls are even higher this time around. Those golden men and women who can fix a problem cannot be reached by mere mortals.
We were just about to give up and buy insurance through the health insurance company's web site, losing out on hundreds of dollars in tax credits, when Betty discovered a sheet of paper from last year's battle that included a user name and password that had been given to us by the nice lady who finally helped us.
With nothing to lose, I entered those precious letters and - we were in! Suddenly I was sailing through a new application and 20 minutes later we had signed her up for a new policy, with a small but welcome tax credit.
Not so fast. Two weeks later and the health insurance company had not received the proper paperwork from the Marketplace. The fine folks at the end of the 800 number said they would have their technical people look at the problem but it could take up to 30 days. With the deadline for coverage only 2 week away that was a non-starter.
With time running out, we decided to skip the whole screwed up system and buy a policy directly from the company web site. Our costs will be substantially more than last year for Betty's policy, with less coverage and more financial risks to us (silver instead of gold). But, at least we won't face bankruptcy over a serious health problem.
The Bottom line: National news reports indicate things went much more smoothly than in 2013. A half a million people were able to go through the process and sign up in the first week.
But, that isn't true for everyone. Once your application gets fouled up by software glitches, you are in trouble. With only 30 days this year to get things done before it is too late to get coverage starting January 1st, there is no margin for error.
The call center people told me that at times the software was performing no better than one year ago. If you had told me that we would have exactly the same experience as 14 months ago after all the money, the effort, and the promises, I would have not believed you. But, for us, that was what happened.
Guess what: Betty has 4 more years before she qualifies for Medicare. Do you want to bet we will go through this same minefield four more times? Or, simply pay whatever the insurance companies want and skip the whole gut-churning experience?
Of course, if the Supreme Court decides tax credits are illegal then the whole for-profit healthcare system as it is now set up will collapse in 2016 under the weight of huge premium increases and no tax help for those not well-off. Betty will become one of an estimated 80 million Americans without health insurance.
Won't that be something.
Update: December 11th and Betty finally has coverage directly from the health insurance company...3 days before the deadline.