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October 30, 2013

Adventures In Blunderland - [Niedermeyer's Dead Horse]

By now, many of you have read the tweet-saga outlining my experience with Healthcare.gov, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to lay it out in a format more conducive to the story.

Yesterday, I was stoopid.

I ignored the signals, the bright, flashing, red signals, my own instinct, and even Consumer Reports, and I created an account at the new healthcare website.

Here's why:


I am presently on long-term disability leave from my employer. Although I haven't worked in a year and a half, I am still, technically, an employee, but if I cannot return to work prior to my two-year mark, in April, I will be terminated.

Because I am still an employee, I have access to an employee health plan, although that plan comes at a premium due to my non-active work status. For active employees the plan runs just under $50 a month. For the more recently retired and disabled employees, it runs $252 per month. And, it's a pretty good plan. There's an $1700 deductible and a maximum out-of-pocket of less than $4000 per year. The company even makes a generous contribution of $1200 annually to my HSA to help offset the deductible. It's a good deal, and I'm blessed to have it.

A couple of weeks ago I received my enrollment package for 2014. In it, the company presented a new retiree/disabled employee health plan with significantly lower premiums in exchange for higher deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. Should I choose this plan I would forfeit the annual HSA contribution.

On the surface, looking at the numbers, I would prefer to remain with my current plan but I must also consider the fact that, upon termination of my employment, it will be necessary for me to continue coverage through COBRA and that can be quite costly. Last week, I reached out to our benefits department to inquire as to the cost of the two plans under COBRA and learned that my current plan, presently $252 per month, will rise to $938 per month. However, I never received a reassuring answer with regards to whether the new, lower premium plan would also be available under COBRA or what the cost will be. (Must it be offered through COBRA?)

With this in mind and the deadline to enroll in a plan approaching, I considered the options and decided to check to see, should I lose my insurance and need to go on the exchange, just what my options would be. So, I created an account at Healthcare.gov.

In creating an account I provided my Social Security number, my income, income source ('Other' because it is derived from disability insurance), and checked the box that I have a disability that prevents me from working. They did not request specifics regarding the disability. And, because I was price shopping, I indicated that I have no insurance.

The results were that I am not qualified for Medicaid (as expected) and do qualify for a $9 per month tax subsidy. I was then asked how much of the total annual subsidy I would like to apply to my premiums. Finally, several columns appeared with price ranges for the different plan levels; Bronze, Silver, etc... Of these, all were higher than my current premiums, some significantly higher, but less expensive than the COBRA rate on my current plan.

Having seen enough, and not needing insurance at this point in time, I reached out to "Lacey" via the live-chat feature. I explained to her my situation: Presently insured, simply price-shopping just in case, and asked how to end my session so that I would not be enrolled in a plan, nor would I be charged a tax penalty for failing to enroll. Lacey explained that if I had not chosen a plan, I could simply log out of the system and that if, when I file my taxes in 2014 I can provide proof of insurance, I would not incur a penalty. Easy! So, I logged off.

A few minutes later I logged back in and found that under 'My Plans & Programs' Medicaid was now listed. I immediately hit the 'remove' button, but to no avail. I received a message stating that I could not "Report a Life Change" until November 15th.

How did this happen?

I had already been disqualified for Medicaid eligibility and had been shown the available plans, none of which were Medicaid. I had been assured, by Lacey, that by logging off the system, I would not be enrolled in ANY plan.

My first call to the help-line was answered by "Diana Raines" (spelled phonetically) who after listening to my story said that she had never heard of such a thing and that I would need to contact Medicaid in order to correct the issue. I made certain to clarify that it was the Healthcare.gov system which had, seemingly, enrolled me in Medicaid. She apologized, and gave me a 1-800-Medicaid number to call.

At 4:55 I attempted to contact Medicaid but received a voice-mail system, which seemed odd.

Later, I called the help-line a second time, by then very concerned that I had been erroneously enrolled in a program for which I do not qualify. I spoke with "Wendy Roberts" and again explained the situation. Wendy confidently replied that it was a "glitch" in the system. I asked her whether the "glitch" was contained within the site itself or whether it had been communicated to Medicaid. Have I actually been enrolled in Medicaid or does the system simply state in error that I have been enrolled? Wendy said that she thought the glitch was contained within the site but that I should reach out to Medicaid to be sure. When I pressed her further, expressing my concern, she stated again that it is a glitch in the system and that they are working to correct it.

Before hanging up the phone I asked Wendy whether this had happened to a lot of other people and she responded that she did know because there are so many reps in the call center. I asked her how she knows that this is a glitch, and that it is being worked on, if she couldn't say whether it had happened to others. She then responded that she had taken a call from a man with the exact same problem, only a few days earlier. She said that he returned to the site on another day and that it no longer showed the glitch. Hmmm.

This begs the question: Why the hell is the system still allowing folks to create an account and browse the plans if this glitch was already known? And, if it was already known, how could they not answer the question regarding the containment of the problem within their own system?

I arose this morning and started calling Medicaid at 8:00. The number provided by Diana, at the help-line, 1-800-Medicaid, was a bad number. It belongs to a medical device supplier. My next call was to Florida Department of Children and Families (FL DCF) which administers the Florida program. "Doris" said that I had reached the wrong office and to call 1-888-367-6554 to speak with Medicaid directly. When I reached the number I was told that they are not "Medicaid" but "Medicaid Options" and that I would need to speak with FL DCF. Eventually, I spoke with "Venus" at DCF. Venus verified that I am not presently in the system, however, she also stated that it takes time for an application to be approved. I asked her whether she had received an application from Healthcare.gov and she explained that they would not, until December, when they receive the records from the healthcare site. She said that I should check back, after December 16th, at which time they will be using the new system.

With the information provided by Venus at DCF, I called the help-line at Healthcare.gov again. This time I spoke with "Sherry Leonard" (spelled phonetically). It was a wildly circular conversation; Sherry stated, as had the rep on the prior call, that it was a glitch in the system. She said that I would not be enrolled in any plan until I made my first payment at which point I clarified that I had been, seemingly, enrolled in Medicaid, and that a first payment would not apply. I asked her to verify whether I was, indeed, enrolled in Medicaid to which she replied I am not, and the reason given was that Medicaid would first need to speak with me to complete the application. I asked her if my "application" might be forwarded to DCF, in December, as indicated by my prior conversation with Venus. She put me on hold and when she returned, she stated, again, that it is a glitch in the system that is being worked on. I asked Sherry why, if I am not enrolled and not qualified to be enrolled, Medicaid is listed under 'My Plans & Programs'. She responded that it is a glitch. I asked her why, if applicants must speak with Medicaid in order to complete an application, it does not mention that on the page. What about all the people who will see "Medicaid" listed and assume they are covered? She said that those people will receive a call from Medicaid.

All the while these conversations were taking place, throughout the night and this morning, I have attempted to log back in to the site to see if the "glitch" has been corrected, but the system has been down. I mentioned this to Sherry and she said that she was not able to see my screen. I pressed further, asking how she can verify that I am not enrolled in Medicaid if she cannot use the system, to which... I'm not kidding.... she clarified that she cannot see MY screen.

It is now 1:30 and I still cannot access the system. Neither can the millions of others the Administration claims are just dying to sign up. After my experience, I would argue that the system being inaccessible is the best possible scenario.

I am left to wait for a call from Medicaid that may or may not come. Others who have created accounts but never returned to check the system again, may or not receive the same call. Still others may have seen the "glitch" and, thinking they are enrolled, will not return to choose a legitimate plan. Have we been counted towards the actual enrollment numbers for the program?

Why... how... has a known glitch of this magnitude been permitted to persist?

I don't know the answer to these questions but, I am now tired, and I am frustrated and, frankly, I'd like to give Kathleen Sebelius a piece of my mind.

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posted by Open Blogger at 07:33 PM

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