Navigating the healthplan mess

If you have tried to find out more about the new kinds of healthcare plans available, you are probably as frustrated as I am right now. Last week the government put up its portal website, and had a devil of a time keeping it from crashing. Quelle surprise. (SNL did a great skit on this over the weekend, BTW.) I am not sure whether or not non-essential personnel are staffing the site during the shutdown period.

Be that as it may, I was able to access the site early one morning over the weekend, and able to signup and see what kinds of plans that I would be eligible for. It took about an hour after several false starts and having to navigate through the site three total times. No wonder why it is overwhelmed, the site design could use some work. One of the reasons it contains a lot of code to reach into your credit reports and pull out information to ensure that you are whom you say you are. With my first try, one of the authentication questions was asking me for the name of my pet insurance provider that I had recently purchased. I think it was confusing me with someone else.

If typing in all this makes you uncomfortable, note that you also have to provide your birth date, social security number, and other personal data. The paranoid among you might just want to skip the exchanges entirely.

Not everyone will have to suffer through the federal site: if your state has set up its own exchange (and about half have), you can go directly there and find out your eligible plans for 2014. But Missouri didn’t want anything to do with setting up its own exchange, so we are stuck with the feds. My daughter lives in Colorado, so we were able to go to that exchange. She was able to find a less expensive plan on the Colorado exchange than sticking with her existing provider.

But here’s the rub with the exchange-offered plans. They have huge out of pocket maximums: usually $4000 or more per person. If you are used to the existing plans that you have had for many years, that could mean trouble if you need a lot of care. The existing plans (called “grandfathered” because they were set up before the new law) have lower maximums and typically lower deductibles too.

Depending on your insurer, you might be able to get information about your existing premiums for 2014 by going to their own websites. In my case, with Anthem, I had to call and suffer the usual 30-minute wait until I got a person to take me through it. In my case, it looks like I should stick with the grandfathered plan rather than deal with the ones that I could get on the exchange (where my maximum out of pocket would be $6000 per person). Another complicating factor: my plan’s anniversary is Feb 1, which means it might be late December before I will get the actual premium numbers. That could be too late to sign up for the newer exchange-based plans.

Do you get the feeling that the official “navigators” – people who are hired to help you sort this all out – are seeing things for the first time? You do.

The lack of quality information on healthcare plans is appalling, and the new healthcare law is only making things incredibly more complex. My daughter got a series of badly worded notices from her existing provider that I could barely figure out, and the plan specifics on the Colorado website wasn’t much better.  You can save the plans you are looking at on the exchanges’ website, when you can actually get through, but (at least on the federal site) you have to go through the same congested portal when you want to log back in and view where you are: that seems like really stupid design.

Feel free to vent below your own tales of woe and if you were actually able to make sense of the new plans, which should be able to handle the volume of your comments.


4 thoughts on “Navigating the healthplan mess

  1. Just fyi, the Connecticut exchange site ( works beautifully. We went on yesterday afternoon (Sunday) and, in no more than 30 minutes, easily enrolled in an individual Anthem “silver” plan that saves our family member about $400 per month compared to his current individual Anthem health insurance ($155 per month vs. $551 per month) for pretty much the same coverage with a lower deductible. Perhaps once Congress gets its act together and the government is back on track, the site will become as efficient. Meanwhile, residents living in the recalcitrant states could benefit if their governors would just recognize reality and set up their exchanges—also taking the load off the fed site.

  2. As you know, I live in France and am a U.S. citizen. Here, you get much, much better care for a very affordable rate (already, healthcare costs are significantly lower than they are in the U.S.). Signing up and paying for the service is relatively straightforward. There are never any “gotchas” or sharks legally preying on the weak and sick, which too often happens in the U.S. The provider system with all of its lobby money is a Kafkaesque sham in the United States, and thus far, the new public exchange service does not look that much better. Historians will one day express shock and dismay over why so many people collectively allowed themselves to get shafted by a sub-par healthcare system.

  3. I have tried for 6 days to get in – after the 4th day I could get my password verified and the account set up – the last two days I could not get in to the site at all. Since the shutdown the National Parks web site is down and the National Forest site is down. Why is the site allowed to be up and kinda of running at this time???

  4. To answer Jim’s question, the Affordable Care Act is outside the annual appropriations process, as are Social Security and Medicare, so it is not subject to the shutdown. Ironic.

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