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Government Healthcare Website Problems: My Obamacare Story

Updated on December 18, 2014

Background Story

My husband is a self-employed North Carolina attorney. I am the stay at home mother of three young children. For the last three and a half years, we have been responsible for finding our own insurance. The most major provider in our state is Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. It also happens to be the only company on the Healthcare Exchange for my county.

Traditionally, the open enrollment period for BCBS insurance is November 1 - 30. Every year, I have tweaked my family's low-premium, high-deductible plan, either to include maternity, remove maternity, add a child, or to see if I can lower our out of pocket costs.

In 2013, it cost my healthy family of five about $550 a month for a 100% wellness covered, $3500 deductible, 60/40 plan.

I'll be honest. By all accounts, this to me was affordable. Once the Affordable Healthcare Act went into effect however, remaining on our current plan for 2014 was going to raise our premiums almost $100 a month. This plan also does not include maternity coverage. With plans to have another baby this year, we were looking at paying close to $800 a month out of pocket for free wellness checkups and vaccines; a baby could cost as much as another $6500.

This no longer sounded affordable.

Attempt 1: Getting on the Healthcare Website

Of course the first thing I did in mid-October was access the government healthcare website and fill out an application. Trying not to worry about putting the social security numbers of myself and four other family members out there on the world wide web, in total, the application took me about an hour to fill out. This includes approximately twenty minutes of typing and mouse clicks, and about forty minutes of waiting for pages to load.

I know I was not alone here.

Of course, like everyone else, when I came to the "Sign and Submit" page, nothing happened. When I re-logged in to my account, my otherwise complete application was listed as "in progress."

After listening to all the horror stories on the news, I decided to give it a month and try again.

Attempt 2: Calling the 800 Number

I had heard that of the 4% of people who had experienced success "getting through" most had done their applications on the phone with a government healthcare representative.

One Friday morning while my children were at school, I spent exactly 97 minutes verbally dictating each letter of every single piece of application information over the phone.

Nevermind that all of my children are under the age of 7. This representative (I assume) was required to read every single question, including "Has this child lived with a foster parent over the age of 18?" (Well, considering she is not yet 18, could we just go ahead and mark "no" on that one?)

The woman was abundantly polite and kind. I will give her that. But it was little better than dictating myself to a robot. Again. 97 minutes.

At the end of this application she read me a four-minute "congratulations" speech about my application going through. I was supposed to wait for something to come in the mail. At this point, I was still relatively unfamiliar with the entire process, so I did not even think about the fact that I had marked the "send my results to email" box at the beginning of the application.

I waited three weeks. Nothing came in the mail.

Attempts 3-76: Doing Whatever it Takes to Get Through

When nothing came in the mail, I called the number back. I explained that I had completed my application on the phone and received a "congratulations" recitation. The man on the phone explained that my application had an "uncoded" error message and he would escalate it for further review. I was to wait three to five business days for a phone call.

In four business days, I called back.

Nothing about my application had changed. The person on the phone saw no error message. My application was simply sitting there "in progress."

I got on the Internet and Googled a bit, trying to find others like me. I was seeking any information that might help me get my family signed up for healthcare with subsidies for 2014. With the deadline quickly approaching, I started to sink into panic-mode.

In no particular order here are some of the things I have done:

  • open a completely new account and start over on the website
  • access the website from Safari, Firefox, and/or Google Chrome
  • clear my cache, cookies, and browsing history and go through my application online again
  • call and have the representative go through my existing application to get it to submit at the end
  • pray
  • call and talk to one representative, get nowhere, hang up, and call back immediately to see if what another representative says is different (it is every time)
  • have the representative "remove" old applications
  • attempt to "delete" old applications (the one that reads STATUS:COMPLETE for the phone-representative's eyes only has been deleted several times but now will not disappear)
  • call or access the website at various times of the day (including first thing in the morning East Coast time and in the middle of the night)

At one point, I had three open applications all of which read STATUS: IN PROGRESS.

Some days, I called the healthcare line and the computers were down on their end. Some days I called the healthcare line and the computers crashed in the middle of attempting to solve my problem. Some of my representatives were thinkers, and didn't ask all the redundant questions multiple times. Others were rule-followers and read every single word to me even though I'm pretty sure I now have the entire application memorized. One particularly energetic representative, named Rick, gave me updates on the weather in Idaho and talked about his online dating profile while we waited for each page to load.

Still, no dice.

HOW TO APPLY FOR MEDICAID IN NORTH CAROLINA

Things you will need:

  • a phone
  • a social security number
  • a full bottle of whiskey
  • a script of 3-4 simple request sentences
  • a hammer or a nearby wall

What to do:

  • Take a shot of whiskey
  • Call local office
  • Take a shot of whiskey
  • Press 1, then 2, then 1
  • Take a shot of whiskey
  • Read from your script
  • Take a shot of whiskey
  • Read from your script
  • Take a shot of whiskey
  • Read from your script
  • Take a shot of whiskey
  • Use hammer or wall in whatever way feels best

Success at Last?

On Sunday, December 8th, 2013, I called the healthcare number.

The woman who answered the phone informed me again that I had three applications open, and asked which one did I want to use.

I said, "Listen, all three of those applications have errors. Have you actually successfully signed anyone up, all the way through, today?"

She said yes, she had signed up two people already that day.

I said, "Are you a woman of faith? Because I am a woman of faith. And right now, I'm going to put all my faith into your magic fingers and see if I can't be success story number three for you today." I then asked her if she could take me through a completely new application from start to finish.

Ninety-seven minutes later I hear these words, "Okay Mrs. Wait, I'm hitting Sign and Submit…and now...would you like me to read you your subsidy offer?"

These were new words.

I started crying right there on the phone.

After reading us our subsidy package for our family of five, she asked if she could go ahead and get us enrolled in a plan. The tears continued to flow.

Now mind you, I could not actually see any of the plans she was reading to me. I could not get online and type in my application number and see the same screen she was seeing. I simply had to listen to my options and choose. Despite the fact that she had very little working knowledge of the actual meaning of "no deductible," and continually confused the letters "M" and "N," I was not letting this lady off the phone.

Though we have never been able to actually view with an option to choose any of the online plans available to us, we finally chose what we believed to be the best, knowing we are not locked in until we make our first payment. Her final words were, "Okay, I am enrolling five people in the Blue Advantage Gold 1000 for a total price of $235 a month."

This number sounded ridiculously low, but I this point, I actually felt like I'd earned it.

Knowing full well this might be the last time I ever had access to this particular application, at the end of enrollment I asked her to give me the application number. She was unable to go back and access the page containing the number because just then, the website froze on her end.

It Isn't Over

My head cleared and my anxiety settled for about two days. I did call and get that application number, though the representative that day was unable to actually open the application and see anything on it.

Even with the application number, we still could not access any of our information online. If we logged in to the website, all we could see were our three "IN PROGRESS" applications. I wasn't fully trusting anything until I heard from BCBS that they had our information from the Marketplace and we were in line for enrollment.

I received a notice from BCBS in the mail about five days later.

It had my name and my husband's name listed, but none of my three children.

Back to the drawing board.

A phone call to Blue Cross resulted in the direction to call the Marketplace back.

So begins another week of back-and-forth phone calls with one-eight-hundred-healthcare-dot-gov. In the first three attempts, none of the representatives could access our application. They could see it listed, but could not click on it.

Finally one morning I got through and was given this message: It says here your children might be eligible for Medicaid so they cannot get on a subsidized plan. This was not told to us the day we enrolled.

What was not said was this:

  • "Might" be eligible also means "might not."
  • Enrollment in the Marketplace does not equal enrollment in Medicaid.
  • Whether or not my children qualify for Medicaid, in the holding period, they do not qualify for our family subsidy. Despite the fact that I offered to pay for my kids' healthcare, the representative was not allowed (or able) to override the "Medicaid caveat" and put my kids on my plan.
  • I will need to fill out a separate application for my children at my county Medicaid office, and the wait time for review is currently standing at 45 days.

By my count, this will put us over the January 1st deadline.

Conclusion

Here is where I currently stand, now eight days away from the enrollment deadline.

My husband and I are on a list with Blue Cross Blue Shield to have our information processed and our new cards and an invoice sent in the mail. When that comes, we will have an opportunity to make our first payment and lock ourselves into our new plan.

The average hold-time to get a Blue Cross Blue Shield representative on the phone right now is about sixty-seven minutes. (Apparently everyone is hitting the panic-button right about now.)

We've requested our children to be grandfathered over on our current plan, so that come January 1, they are not uninsured. We do not have an ACA compliant plan, because the cheapest plan with the smallest network and highest deductible was still going to cost us about $130 a person. Keeping our kids on the plan we had for 2013 required splitting them into three individual plans (because mom and dad are no longer listed) and will cost us about $275 total. Again, I consider that affordable.

I will be turning in my Medicaid application for my children. If they qualify, I will be the woman in the 2012 Honda Odyssey and Coach boots receiving free government healthcare for my three children.

If they do not qualify, I will be updating you shortly on what it takes to "appeal" your government healthcare subsidy offer. Stay tuned.

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    • profile image

      Heather C 3 years ago

      I just took the monthly raise in premiums from our old insurance company b/c my old affordable plan apparently wasn't good enough for Obama.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Wow, is all I can say. The system is certainly broken. I'm sure you're not alone :(

    • Bob Zermop profile image

      Bob Zermop 3 years ago from California, USA

      Jesus, so sorry to hear of your struggles. Let us readers know if things develop - best wishes.

    • clairewait profile image
      Author

      clairewait 3 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you. That was weirdly touching, even though you are a stranger. Will definitely check back in after the New Year with some updates.

    • Deni Edwards profile image

      Deni Edwards 3 years ago from california

      It's very unfortunate you have to go through this, but be mindful that your state chose not to run a state exchange. This is your governor's fault--more than half the country has to use the federal website because the republican governors/republican party wants to see this fail. States that are running its own exchanges, like mine in California, are having exceptional results.

    • JON EWALL profile image

      JON EWALL 3 years ago from usa

      Deni Edwards

      2/25/10 BO DEMS knew policy problem https://hubpages.com/politics/BARAKOBAMAHEALTHCARE... Obamacare is a fraud bait switch on the American people The Republicans plan was rejected by BO NO COMPROMISE NO NEGOCIATE. 2009 2010 Democrats controlled all of the government Dems all voted for a bill that was not finished written.Not one Republican voted for the ACA bill. Obamacare is the failure of one party majority rule ( dictatorship) The Dems own Obamacare 100% blaming Republicans for Obamacare problems is pure dung California is going great , how many of the signed up has finalized their contracts ( paid policies )

    • clairewait profile image
      Author

      clairewait 3 years ago from North Carolina

      My state also voted not to raise Medicaid - creating this strange gap of people who cannot receive insurance help on either end. This has naturally resulted in a state wide rage against the Republican machine. What many fail to realize in all this, is that our state constitution requires a balanced budget. We are not allowed to operate on a deficit. At least our governor had the mental wherewithal to look five years into the future of all this and understand that we simply cannot afford it. The system is flawed, no doubt, but I'm not on the bandwagon that blames the Republicans for it. The Republicans do not WANT to see this fail. They are the ones actively watching it in the midst of failure and calling it like they see it. I don't currently keep up with West Coast politics of any sort, least of all California, the redheaded stepchild of the universe, but I'd be curious to see what The Terminator has to say about all this.

    • profile image

      Sunny 2 years ago

      This inarfmotion is off the hizool!

    • profile image

      Vanapilli 2 years ago

      He campaigned for it like it was the gasetert thing since sliced bread. Then he signed it after it passed the House and Senate. No one read it before voting for it and Obama didn't read it before he signed it. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D California) the most stupid woman in office ever said, But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy. The only thing foggy is Pelosi's brain. Assuming she has one to begin with. Which is doubtful.

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