My Obamacare + HealthCare.gov adventure: Part 1 of ???

November 12, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 12, 2013

I’ve written a number of times on this blog about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, informally known as Obamacare. On Oct. 31, I criticized President Obama and his administration for repeatedly and explicitly claiming that Americans with health insurance would be able to keep their policies, even though they knew or should have known that this wasn’t the case.

In general, however, I’ve been cautiously optimistic that the law might — emphasis on might — work more or less as intended, which was how I concluded my Sept. 10 post on the topic.

One thing that I haven’t revealed, until now, is that my perspective on the Affordable Care Act is that of a consumer of health care who enjoys having the buffer from bankruptcy and sudden large expenses that solid health insurance can provide. I thought in particular that the law’s guaranteed issue provision, which requires health insurers to sell policies to all who apply, regardless of pre-existing conditions, was something that might benefit me.

The Obamacare exchanges — the websites through which consumers shop for health insurance policies — officially opened for business on Oct. 1, but I held off on visiting HealthCare.gov until just the other day.

My reasons for doing so were twofold. One is that I expected a flood of consumers to use the exchanges in the first few days, which did in fact appear to be the case. The other is that HealthCare.gov, along with a few of its state counterparts, has been notoriously buggy.

So I wasn’t too surprised when, in my first attempt to create a HealthCare.gov account Sunday evening, I ran into trouble. The problem was relatively easy to fix, however; I switched from using the Safari browser to Google Chrome. That solved the issue, and soon I was off and running.

Now, to borrow the president’s beloved rhetorical flourish, let’s be clear: HealthCare.gov doesn’t have the greatest design or user interface. At one point, while reviewing the information that I’d given the website, I wanted to change something. That decision plunged me back into a sequence of questions that I’d already answered. It wasn’t clear how to make just one or two changes, so I ended up inputting a lot of data that I had already provided.

I also was a bit confused about how to check my eligibility. When the time came to do so, I clicked on the relevant button and initially thought that the website failed to respond. After I tried again, I realized that the button caused a PDF to download, although that fact was easy to miss because the web page remained static. The browser’s download notification was triggered, but that’s a relatively subtle sign; some other indication that I had just been sent a document to read would have been helpful.

After I sorted that matter, I advanced to the page showing my coverage options. There are 28 being sold in Durham County, N.C., where I live — no catastrophic plans, eight bronze plans, 12 silver plans, six gold plans and two platinum plans.

I found calling up and reviewing these plans more difficult than necessary. There seemed to be two reasons for this. One is that the interface was slightly confusing; the other is that not all of the buttons seemed to respond as quickly as one would expect.

This is as good a place as any to note that the eligibility decision — the one that I belatedly realized had automatically downloaded from the website — is a dry-as-dust 11-page document. I would blast the government bureaucratese of its prose, but the truth is that it’s not really much better or worse than the dense legalese that private health insurance companies issue to prospective buyers (let alone actual customers).

I haven’t yet enrolled in a plan; I’ll likely detail my decision-making process in a future post. But the bottom line right now on HealthCare.gov is just like the bottom line on the Affordable Care Act itself: It’s not yet proven that it will work, but it’s certainly not (at least as this point!) the bureaucratic nightmare that its critics have portrayed it as being.

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