Obamacare Enrollment: How It Worked Out for Me This Year

Photo (cc) by jurno

Some bad movies get a second life with an equally bad sequel (witness “Hot Shots!” and “Hot Shots! Part Deux”), and you may be thinking the same could be said about Obamacare open enrollment.

The initial rollout of the government’s online health insurance marketplace was a mess, so it’s little wonder there have been questions about whether the program will fall flat on its face this year, too. To find out if we can expect a repeat, I fired up my computer, went to HealthCare.gov and checked it out for myself.

Good news and bad news in the mail

However, before I could even get on the computer, I received a notice in the mail from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, which provides my current silver tier plan.

Great news, it exclaimed!

My coverage would continue for the next year, and I would be automatically re-enrolled Dec. 15 if I didn’t choose a new plan first.

That’s all fine and dandy, especially since I like my coverage, but further reading revealed some not so great news. While my coverage was continuing as is, my premium is not. Beginning in 2015, my monthly cost would jump from $599 to $677.

I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the increase, so off to the health insurance marketplace I went.

Some technical problems still persist

Last year, enrolling in health insurance on the marketplace was a test of patience and endurance. I spent hours on the computer and on the phone trying to gain access to the site and ended up creating three usernames and multiple applications in the process.

This year, I received an email in advance of the marketplace’s opening, saying I would need to reset my password. That seemed like an unneeded step but whatever, government.

Unfortunately, trying to reset my password ended up locking my account and resulted in a 35-minute phone call to unlock it. During that call, the phone representative had to unlock my account three times because it kept, for reasons we didn’t quite understand, rejecting my government-issued temporary password.

Once I had finally accessed my account, it was smooth sailing. I needed to complete a new application, but information from last year was automatically transferred, so the application process was largely clicking through an endless number of screens to confirm my children did in fact live with me, were not pregnant and, yes, were each other’s brothers and sisters.

Plan options for 2015

Your plan options will vary significantly depending on where you live. For example, I live in West Michigan and have access to 74 plans. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that those located in Charleston, W.V., get to choose from only 14 plans.

The available plans in my area break down into these tiers:

  • Bronze plans — 22.
  • Silver plans — 30.
  • Gold plans — 19.
  • Platinum plans — three.

Note: This video, shot last year by Money Talks News’ Stacy Johnson, sheds some light on what these types of plans provide.

The cheapest coverage available to my family of six comes from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. It’s a bronze plan with a monthly premium of $282 and a deductible of $11,900. With a deductible like that, no thank you.

On the other end of the spectrum is a platinum plan, also offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. It comes with dental and vision coverage and only a $200 deductible. Sounds tempting, but with a monthly premium of $1,188, that’s a no thank you, too.

I know I don’t want a bronze plan because those only cover 60 percent of your expenses, and they’re not eligible for reduced cost sharing such as lower co-pays. So I eliminated those and kept looking.

While a platinum plan from Humana is tempting — it actually costs less than my current silver plan — I’m wary about leaving Blue Cross Blue Shield. After a lifetime of coverage by the Blues, I’m not sure I’m ready to try something new.

After a few more indecisive moments, I decided to log out and mull it over some more. After all, I do have until Dec. 15 to choose whether to jump ship from my current plan.

6 things to know about Obamacare open enrollment

If you need to buy your own insurance on the exchange, here’s what you should know:

  • You can enroll now. The marketplace at HealthCare.gov opened Nov. 15 and will be available until Feb. 15.
  • Your current plan may auto-renew. Or it may be canceled. You should have received a letter from your insurer telling you which one it is. Some nonconforming policies were allowed to continue through 2014, but those are being discontinued for next year. Your policy may also be canceled if your insurer decides to no longer carry it. But in that case, you might be automatically transferred to a similar plan. Again, your insurance company should be sending you a notification of your plan status.
  • You need to decide by Dec. 15. That is, if you want coverage to begin Jan. 1. Otherwise, you can enroll as late as Feb. 15, for coverage that will start March 1.
  • You will need to send in additional information. And some of that might leave you scratching your head. The marketplace automatically checks whether children are eligible for Medicaid. My eligibility letter informs me they’re not eligible (no surprise) and then a few lines later asks me to send proof that they are not enrolled in Medicaid. I suppose I could send them back their letter and highlight where it says the kids are not eligible, but otherwise I’m not exactly sure how to prove a negative.
  • You shouldn’t use Firefox. When I called for help with my locked account, the very first question I was asked was which browser I was using. The representative then told me that the federal health insurance marketplace apparently does not work well with Firefox. I used Chrome instead with no problems.
  • You don’t need to use the marketplace if you have group coverage. The Obamacare open enrollment is only for those who need to buy their own coverage. If you get your health insurance through work, you’ll have your normal open enrollment period there.

Are you buying your own coverage on the government health insurance marketplace this year? If so, have you been on the site yet? And has your experience been better than last year? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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