I was as disappointed as anyone — save for the chronically uninsured seeking a fair price for health coverage — when I tried for more than two weeks to create an account and search for prices in the Michigan Health Insurance Marketplace.
The rollout of the federal online health insurance exchange was a miserable failure, by any perspective — be it political, IT geek, navigator helper or actual user.
Here are a few reasons why I believe healthcare.gov failed to properly launch the first two weeks:
- The federal government’s decision to build powerful security protection into the website to protect users’ privacy. Some still question privacy protection, but no specific problems have been so far identified.
- The healthcare.gov website wasn’t tested fully until a short period of time before it launched on Oct. 1.
- Higher-than-expected volume. More than 20 million people by now have used healthcare.gov.
- Insufficient funding from Congress, late release of regulations and continued opposition from Republicans.
- Too much was asked of healthcare.gov by federal officials, especially when 36 states and millions of people were expected to participate. Functions included requirements to verify income and social security status, and to give ranges of prices for thousands of insurance products, all while protecting medical and financial privacy.
But finally there is some evidence that the federal marketplace is working faster and more effectively.
First, let me tell you my own personal experience.
The beginning of the third week I was able to finally access my account, complete my application and search for individual health insurance prices. But now, as a I write this, we are in week four of healthcare.gov and I am shut out again. Nice! HHS has brought in a truckload of IT troubleshooters and is overhauling the web site. Word is it will be up and running by end of November.
How much were my rates? Catastrophic bare-bones plans ranged from $178.58 per month for Humana to a mid-level bronze plan for $286.26 from Blue Cross. I got quotes on more than two dozen plans.
If I were uninsured, I would have chosen either one because I am healthy and have no chronic conditions. But since this was a test and I am already insured by Crain’s, I did not go further.
I was able to prove — at least to myself — that the website is working better, at least up to actually enrolling in a plan. I also checked with other people who had similar experiences late last week.
One thing federal officials finally did last week that was long overdue was to offer a new feature that allows people to get an estimated price for coverage without having to create an account. This feature, which the model California marketplace offers, should have been available from day one.
How do folks get price estimates? First, they can check out a savings calculator, which can give them an estimate of how much they may save. Second, they can look at plans in their county and see how much those cost before savings from the subsidies.
It is not true, however, as some critics have charged, that people have to provide overly intrusive financial data with the federal data hub. I found the required information to be less than filling out an online credit card application.
You’ll need a name, age, street address, marital status, whether you smoke, citizenship status, general financial information and your social security number. Financial and citizenship information will be double-checked by IRS and Homeland Security.
Federal officials already have made other improvements by increasing server capacity, streamlining the account creation process and offering an 800 number (800-318-2596) to sign up over the phone.
I am sure people are still having problems. Federal officials hope to have them resolved in the next few weeks. I also heard some health insurers are having problems getting correct enrollment data from the marketplace.