WASHINGTON – What can Americans applying for Obamacare expect from the enrollment process?
After two hours of attempts by WND to obtain cost estimates for the four different plans offered by the federal health exchange – platinum, gold, silver and bronze – the government offered to reply “sometime before Jan. 1, 2014.”
And because an applicant wouldn’t want to apply to purchase a product without knowing what the cost would be, that meant there could be a three-month wait to even apply.
A WND investigation revealed multitudes of hurdles, ranging from unknown cost estimates and repeated questioning to long waits and even a disconnected telephone call.
As the first stage in applying for government health coverage, WND took to the phones and Internet to learn what a plan might cost one of its employees.
In the effort to get a cost estimate, all the questions were answered truthfully, as is required by law.
The application turned into a two-stage process, one hour online and another hour on the phone.
Much of the time online was spent trying to determine where to locate information.
And much of the time on the phone was spent answering questions, sometimes asked multiple times. For example, the applicant was asked three separate times if he was an American Indian or Alaskan Native.
A federal health-care exchange employee, who was earnest and friendly, even asked for help spelling “Pennsylvania.”
Website to nowhere
WND first attempted to apply online, beginning with an Internet search of the terms “Virginia” and “health care exchange.”
Those terms revealed an official government health insurance exchange website for Virginia.
A zip code and answers to a few quick questions produced quotes from private insurance companies, which appeared to be reasonable for the age group and location.
However, returning to the main page in the quest for Obamacare price quotes, WND found a number of hoops to jump through first.
There were pages to determine such things as whether an applicant is eligible for a subsidy or subject to a penalty.
The pages each had what appeared to be a news article on the subjects containing a great deal of editorializing on the program.
An article headlined “Will you receive an Obamcare subsidy?” included information contrary to headlines here, here, here, here, here, here, and contrary to information documented by WND. It stated, “Ignore headlines telling you that premiums are higher: fear-mongers are comparing the announced rates to the rates insurers now charge for skimpy ‘junk insurance.”
These paragraphs were found under the header, “How States are Dealing with Health Care Exchanges”:
“Opponents haven’t stopped fighting the ACA since its passage. The U.S. House has voted 37 times to repeal or defund all or parts of the law. None of these efforts has gained traction with Democrats who controlled the Senate.
“Twenty-six states joined a federal lawsuit trying to overturn the ACA, but the Supreme Court upheld all but one of the challenged provisions. Many citizens voted for Mitt Romney hoping he would overturn the law, but President Obama was re-elected. With all of these avenues blocked, some states continued to resist ACA by refusing to act on health insurance exchanges.”
WND learned the applicant is not eligible for a subsidy, according to a table.
The applicant also discovered Virginia has not set up a state-run exchange, and applicants from the state would have to go to the federally run exchange. The website did not reveal that information. It was obtained through an Internet search of the terms, “federal health care exchange,” which called up the federal government’s official website for health care.
The application process initially appeared to be easy, as the applicant was greeted with a big, green button that read: APPLY NOW.
The website detected the applicant was in Virginia and directed him to hit another APPLY NOW button to “apply for coverage, compare plans and enroll.”
That’s when the site ran out of easy buttons.
It put the applicant on a wait list and took him to a page that read: “We have a lot of visitors on the site right now. Please stay on this page. We’re working to make the experience better, and we don’t want you to lose your place in line. We’ll send you to the login page as soon as we can. Thanks for your patience! In a hurry? You might be able to apply faster at our Marketplace call center. Call 1-800-318-2596 to talk with one of our trained representatives about applying over the phone.”
Please hold … until January
After one hour had passed, WND called the phone number, which promptly put the applicant on hold, then disconnected the call.
After a second attempt, the applicant was connected to a live person.
The WND applicant explained he currently had employer-provided insurance but wanted to get price quotes for Obamacare to see if it would be less expensive.
The Obamacare employee then asked for the applicant’s salary information, eligibility for subsidies, pre-existing conditions, language of preference and state of residence.
Then the caller was told he would be connected to a “marketplace representative” for Virginia.
After just six minutes on hold, a woman answered. WND asked if she was a “marketplace representative” for Virginia.
She was not.
Instead, the woman began a lengthy disclaimer and suggested the applicant visit the website to apply. But the applicant indicated he had just tried to apply online and had been put on hold for more than an hour. He asked if she could help him navigate the federal exchange application process, and she agreed.
The woman asked his name, address and phone number, then informed him that filling out an application did not obligate an applicant to purchase anything.
She explained how various plans had different costs, depending on the coverage, and the plans were categorized as platinum, gold, silver and bronze.
The quality of each plan is the same, she insisted, even if the prices are different. Higher premiums would mean lower out-of-pocket costs.
The woman asked for authorization to obtain the applicant’s personal and financial information. She said the authorization would last just one day.
The woman also explained how tax credits might be available (they wouldn’t be) and that the applicant might qualify for low-cost insurance, even if he had a family of four and was making $94,000. (He did not have a family of four and was not making $94,000 a year.)
She asked for personal and financial information, as well as employer information, and promised the data would be kept private and secure, as mandated by law.
She asked for date of birth, a Social Security number and information on whether the applicant planned to file taxes, would be filing jointly, had dependents or was being claimed as a dependent.
The applicant was told he would be sent instructions in about a week on how to purchase health insurance, with no obligation to buy.
The woman then asked for his name, address and phone number a second time. She also asked if the applicant would like to designate someone to assist him in the future, such as a lawyer or family member. He declined.
She then asked for his name, address and phone number for a third time.
The woman then apologized, explaining that the form she was following kept asking her for the information. As the session progressed, she would often stop to explain she was filling out the same information again, but retrieving it from other parts of the form. She was apologetic and courteous.
Did he need health insurance? No. Did he want to see if he could get a better deal? Yes.
Was he under emotional or physical pain that caused daily pain? Was he a U.S. citizen? Did he want help paying his last three months of medical bills? Did he have children? Was he a student? Was he a foster child? Was he once a foster child? Was he Hispanic? Or another minority?
What was his employer’s name and address? What was his salary? Was it his only job? Had he changed jobs in the past year? Did he have other means of income? Did he have any payroll deductions? Was a change in income expected? Did he need to cover other people?
Was he an American Indian? Was anyone in his family covered by a government health plan, such as Medicare? Did he have health insurance? What was the name of the provider? Was it a Cobra plan? Was it a retiree plan?
Would he give her permission to sign for him under penalty of law?
Then she read a lengthy disclaimer.
The applicant was told his eligibility would be renewed automatically. He was also told that if he did not agree with the estimate he could appeal.
Once again, she asked for authorization to sign the application.
The woman then asked for the applicant’s employer ID number. He asked if that meant the number the IRS uses on tax forms. She did not know. He gave her the contact info for someone who might know the number, and she was satisfied with that. She then asked for the employer’s address, again.
Was he eligible for coverage provided by his employer?
Did the employer provide a plan that meets the “minimum value standard”?
He asked her what that meant. She did not know. So they skipped the question.
Did he smoke?
What changes was his employer planning to make to the employee health insurance?
Was his employer planning to stop providing health insurance?
Was his employer planning on changing the premium?
What did the employee currently pay for his health care?
She asked again if the applicant was an American Indian or Alaskan Native.
The woman asked again if the applicant would like to designate someone to help him apply for health insurance and act as his authorized representative.
At the 55-minute mark, the woman on the phone said she thought they were almost finished.
The applicant asked her if he would find out today what his estimated costs would be for the four plans.
The woman congratulated him on finishing the application process. It would now be reviewed.
She told him they are processing a lot of applications, and “don’t worry” if it takes a while.
So the applicant asked when he might expect to hear from them.
She said the application would be processed, and he should hear from them – by Jan. 1, 2014.
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth.