Obamacare Insurance Marketplace: Off to Rocky Start

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My goal was simple: to prepare one of the first television news stories describing the prices and user experience for the new online insurance marketplaces provided by Obamacare.

I started on Sept. 30, the day before the marketplaces, also called exchanges, opened, by talking to media relations for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Via email, I requested rate information in advance of the exchanges opening so I could prepare a news story. When the email response I received didn’t answer my request, I got someone on the phone. After some back and forth, I was told that what I wanted was impossible: no advance anything. If I wanted rate information, I’d have to wait along with everyone else until 8 a.m. on Oct. 1, when the exchanges opened.

I then asked additional questions and was assured answers would be forthcoming via email. Nope. Never heard from her again.

Opening day: Oct. 1

6:45 a.m.: The media relations rep told me on Monday that while the exchanges weren’t scheduled to open until 8 a.m. Eastern time, they may open early. While I didn’t believe that would happen, I checked and sure enough, HealthCare.gov was ready to accept new accounts.

6:45 to 7 a.m.: I tried three times to establish an account. This required entering my first and last name and email address, and establishing an acceptable user name and password (at least one capital letter and one number), and supplying answers to three security questions.

After supplying the required information, I got the following message:

Important: Your account couldn’t be created at this time. The combination of first name, last name, and email address aren’t unique.

So rather than telling me the site was too busy to process new accounts, it made me fill out all the information, then implied I’d made a mistake. Nice. 

7 a.m.: Thought I’d try a different approach: I called the toll-free number offered at the website: (800) 318-2596. The recording was familiar:

All of our representatives are busy. Please continue to hold and wait for the next available representative. Estimated wait time: 30 minutes.

7:03 a.m.: While holding on the phone, I used another feature of HealthCare.gov — live webchat. Unfortunately, like the phone, it simply kept periodically repeating the same message: “Please be patient while we’re helping other people.”

7:49 a.m.: After listening to Muzak for 49 minutes, I finally got a representative on the line. The call lasted less than two minutes. She asked if I’d established an online account and I explained that I’d tried multiple times, but HealthCare.gov wasn’t cooperating. She then said she was sorry, but unless I had an account, there was nothing she could do to help me.

She suggested I try the live webchat feature. I’d forgotten I was already waiting for that, so I went to check if someone had ever appeared there. They had: at 7:34 a.m. I’d missed them.

8:05 a.m.: I went back to HealthCare.gov for another try. This time I was able to put in my email and user name and password, but when I got to the security questions, brick wall: The drop-down list of questions didn’t work.

9:00 a.m.: Same story as above.

10:00 a.m.: This time the site said “The System is down at the moment. We’re working to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Please try again later.”

11:00 a.m.: Back to what it did at 8 and 9: It let me set up an account, but wouldn’t let me select security questions to complete the process. More time wasted.

Keep checking back. Sooner or later, I have to be able to get on this thing. 

12:13 p.m.: Still no dice. But a few minutes ago, I got an email from a reader, saying in part:

I’m not sure why you found it difficult to access the exchanges. I just accessed my state exchange and received many rate quotes in a matter of seconds.

I wrote back and asked whether this reader lives in a state operating its own exchange. She does: Delaware. I don’t. I live in one of the 27 states using the federal platform at HealthCare.gov. Of course, some people must be successfully accessing the federal site; otherwise it wouldn’t be too busy to work properly. Maybe I’m just one of the unlucky ones.

I really wish that my state (Florida), rather than actively resisting the new health care law, had cooperated and built an exchange. Maybe then my experience would have been smoother. Note to self: Vote twice for whoever runs against Florida Gov. Rick Scott in the next election.

1:28 p.m.: Surrender (at least for today). I tried one more time, but the site still won’t deliver the list of security questions. That’s it. I’m done for today.

I’ll summarize my experience with the new health insurance exchange with both good news and bad news. The bad news is obvious: I’m no closer to an insurance quote today than I was 24 hours ago. But the good news is the reason. Presumably I can’t get on HealthCare.gov because the ability to finally find affordable health insurance is attracting an overwhelming number of my fellow Americans.

Good for them. I already have insurance and many of my fellow citizens don’t. So I’ll happily step to the side and wish them a rewarding and speedy experience.

But this story isn’t over yet. Sooner or later, I’ll get an account set up and get some quotes. When I do, you’ll be one of the first to know. Be on the lookout for more.

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  • 3rdjerseyman

    The essential problem with Obama’s administration, and the man himself, is not their leftist orientation, they have a right to their ideology, it is their incompetence. They are, as are so many very well educated but practically inexperienced people today, enamored of their own brilliance but sorely lacking in any real management or creative ability. The confusion of glibness with ability is widespread and dangerous. Formerly, we elected men who had managed large enterprises with signal success. They in turn surrounded themselves with similarly distinguished people. Mr Obama’s clique is almost exclusively politicos, lawyers, financiers and academics; no heroic military leaders, enterprise creators, self made men or industrialists.
    Is it any wonder we have had so many speeches, meetings and plans and so few decisions, successful programs or innovations.

  • mossham

    3rdjerseman can not agree with you more. Not party politics just pure lack of backbone to support their rally cries. Bush execution with Obama ideas might have been a halfway decent politician. just a thought

  • EJ

    This article is falsely written. I received this article in my inbox Oct. 1 at 7:16am pacific time! Do the math with the timeline.

  • Candi Stiggiers

    Had the same experience. I finally got to the security questions, and the drop down arrows did not work. I gave up for today.

  • Tmustang

    I live in PA – been trying all day – can’t get past the security questions…tried about 10 times or more…

  • Al Seaver

    NOTHING the government has a hand in ever works as it should. That result can then be multiplied when Obonzo & Co. has anything to do with it.

  • Sam

    Ahhh, no Congress will NOT use Obamacare nor will their interns and staff – they got a waiver to get out from UNDER this doomed, hole filled scam of a healthcare plan. Perhaps it is you that should get your facts straight _Mick_

    • ghortej

      Congress has a “waiver” the same way employees of Apple or GE or any other company that provides insurance have waivers. You don’t need to purchase your own insurance if your employer is already providing it.

      The components of the ACA that regulate insurance companies (can’t deny preexisting conditions, have to insure children up to a certain age, must use a certain percentage of their revenue to pay for medical treatment rather than CEO salaries) will all apply to the insurance plans that Congress has.

    • Mick

      http://mediamatters.org/research/2013/10/01/15-myths-the-media-should-ignore-during-obamaca/196181#anchor1

      See Myth # 1.

      You might want to read the rest of the lies/misinformation/stupidities from the Right while you are at it!