The Agony of Healthcare.gov

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As a self-employed writer (shameless plug – buy my book “Five Ways To Beat The Market” at Amazon) I have the distinct joy of buying health insurance for myself and my son. For the past year the monthly premium has been $191/month or $2,292/year. Last week I received a letter from my insurance company with the following news, “We cannot renew your existing plan in 2014.” Why can’t they renew a plan I’m perfectly happy with? Because “ACA requires us to make significant changes to our health benefits plan designs.” For the uninitiated ACA stands for the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, but more accurately described as the Unaffordable Care Act.

They can’t tell me yet what next year’s premium will be, so I did some investigating to get a rough idea. According to eHealthInsurance.com the least expensive plan available will cost $641/month or $7,692/year. That’s an extra $5,400/year for a plan that has a higher deductible and pays a smaller percentage of my costs than my current plan. In other words I’ll be paying 3 times more for a piece of junk.

Not too excited about this wretched option I decided to investigate pricing through the online exchange. I live in North Carolina, one of the 36 states using the federal exchange called Healthcare.gov. The following is the (so far) unending saga of my attempts to use this monstrosity.

October 1 – Healthcare.gov goes live! The marquee feature of Obama’s flagship program has been unveiled. Mid-morning I tried creating an account for an hour. After a 40 minute wait I got on and created a username and password. So far, so good. Then I got to the security question page. The page had 3 drop boxes for selecting 3 questions. No problem right? Well, none of the drop boxes were populated so you couldn’t select a question! This is Web Programming 101 stuff and the government programmers didn’t do it right. This “glitch” stopped the process cold, so I had to give up.

I tried again that evening and this time the drop boxes were populated, so I answered the security questions. However, when I tried to finish the process I got a message that “Your account could not be created. The system is unavailable”. Stopped cold again.

October 2 – I tried several times to get on Healthcare.gov with no success.

October 3 – Success – I finally created an account with a username and password. To verify that it works, Healthcare.gov sent me an email with a verification link. I clicked it and up came the log-in page. I logged in and that brought me to the “success” page. Great, right? Wrong! The success page was completely blank. No text, nothing to click, just a pristine white screen. I tried refreshing the page and relogging in. No dice. I tried several times later in the day. Nada. I had hit another brick wall.

October 4 – Tried for an hour in the morning to get to the log-in page, but it wasn’t happening. Tried again in the afternoon, managed to log-in and got a blank success page again.

October 5 – I tried something radical today, I used Internet Explorer (instead of Chrome). When I logged in, lo and behold an actual web page appeared – Healthcare.gov doesn’t work on Google Chrome! Un-f*#&ing believable! There is nothing on their website that tells you this. So it was smooth sailing from there, right? If you said “yes” you’ve learned nothing yet.

I started completing in an application. I filled in my name, address, SS number, etc. Then the system needed to verify that I’m an actual person, so I had to enter the information I had just entered for a second time. The system couldn’t verify me. I had to enter the information again. Still couldn’t verify me and told me I had to call an 800 number. The number belongs to Experian, the credit reporting company. They placed me on hold then came back several minutes later to tell me they were too busy and I would need to call at another time. Click.

I was about to give up when I noticed, in small print, the page said I could proceed without verifying. If I don’t need to verify then why did it make me go through the process?!

I moved on to the next step, entering information about myself and anyone I want to insure. For the third time I entered my information and added info for my son. Then it wanted to know if I filed a joint tax return. I do so I had to add some information about my wife. Did that then hit the button to proceed. A pop-up screen appeared with the most incoherent question I had encountered so far:

“Susan Slingland isn’t applying for coverage. Is this information correct?”
1. Yes. I want to add this person. (re-read the question and then read this choice and tell me if you can figure out what this means.)
2. No. I want to change this information. (OK, that makes sense)
3. Cancel. I don’t need to add this person. (How does “cancel” answer a “yes” or “no” question?)

Who designed this pop-up? Franz Kafka? I’m not getting insurance for my wife, so I knew I didn’t want #2. The two parts of #1 contradict each other while the two parts of #3 are merely confusing. So I chose #3.

I hit “save” to move on and the pop-up with the question and 3 answers came back. WTH? I chose 3 again, clicked save and the pop-up returned. I guess #3 isn’t the right answer, so I tried #1. Same result. Just for giggles I tried #2. The pop-up came back and now my wife was listed as somebody I want to insure. Those government coders were probably rolling on the floor laughing when they programmed this.

I got out of the pop-up and went backwards to start over again. I entered my info for the 4th time (!) when the website went into a loop that bounced me between 2 pages. I was trapped on a cyber hamster wheel. I finally gave up and got a beer.

October 6 – Healthcare.gov was down for most of the day. When it finally came up I’d click “log-in” only to get an error message that the site couldn’t find the log-in page.

October 7 – Somebody found the log-in page overnight and managed to get it back on the website. I tried logging in. Now I’m being told that my log-in isn’t valid. It has worked fine since the third day, but now the system doesn’t recognize it!

After a week of struggling with this fiasco I am right back where I started. Nowhere!

The Feds had 3 years and spent untold millions to get the online exchange up and running, but it can’t handle even the most basic tasks. As far as anyone can tell it was never even tested before it went live. According to HHS, prices for insurance are lower on the exchange than in the open market, but right now it is impossible to find out what the exchange price is. This may be the single greatest example of incompetence from a profoundly incompetent administration.

For now it’s the law of the land – you MUST buy insurance, so I will continue to struggle with this godforsaken technological abortion. As The Hives sang, “square one here I come!”

About Author

Wayne Middlesteadt

Wayne Middlesteadt is a 1986 graduate of Georgia Tech and has an MBA from Georgia State University. Currently working as a financial writer and track and field historian, his latest book is Five Ways To Beat The Market.

  • Nick L. Gale

    Very enjoyable read. Makes me happy I don’t have to do the exchanges.

  • Patti

    yeah – and now they want to control our health care. buckle up, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride…

  • SD

    I feel your pain as I am stuck at the same wierd question. I am in IT and I can bet that this s/w isn’t tested at all before it rolled out..Funny thing is that the Live Chat doesn’t even help you. They have this standard cut and paste message any time you ping them.