As a self-employed writer eager to buy one of the new health care plans taking effect in January 2014, I immediately seized the opportunity to sign up for an account on Healthcare.gov in August. Unfortunately when the magical day to apply arrived, October 1, my first attempt to sign up for insurance on the site ended with the crushing message that my identity could not be verified.
Subsequent attempts yielded more odd results. Curious, I began to search online news to see whether others had issues. Of course, eventually I saw that they did.
Applying by phone
During the first week of October, I continued to apply unsuccessfully online and contacted the call center. By the end of that week, I learned that it was possible to fill out a paper application or apply on the phone. I requested a paper application but was told it would take a month to send.
I then opted to apply by phone. Applying with an agent took a couple of hours, including a verification process with Experian because my identity still would not verify. The agent seemed surprised by the difficulties.
Because the website didn’t seem to be working well, I chose to receive subsequent information by mail. I was told I’d hear within two weeks.
After that time, I found I could no longer log into my account, and when I called, I was told to keep trying. Becoming frustrated, eventually I asked to speak with a supervisor.
Speaking with a supervisor
A supervisor returned my call within a few days. This supervisor noted that my phone application appeared to have an issue and could not be accessed. He advised that I might need to apply again.
Meantime, I had already contacted Florida Blue to ask whether the insurer could provide any support in the application process. A sales agent set up an appointment with me to reapply in the local Florida Blue office.
I was relieved. Florida Blue would take care of everything.
Visiting an agent
To my dismay, when I went in for the appointment, the agent informed me that he could not help me apply after all. He had only been hoping he would have access to the system.
All the Florida Blue agent could do at that time was show me the health plans. That proved to be helpful because I learned that the Silver Plan I had hoped to sign up for (Plan 1442) was not eligible for out-of-pocket assistance.
I decided on the Silver Plan that was eligible for out-of-pocket assistance that also had the lowest maximum out-of-pocket cap. This plan turned out to be Florida Blue Plan 1439. (You can read all about out-of-pocket assistance here; it is an addition to the subsidies that most people will get.)
My strategy was to hedge my bets. No matter whether my income went up, down, or stayed the same in 2014, I would either be covered by out-of-pocket assistance or, if my income were too high for the out-of-pocket assistance, I would benefit from a lower maximum out-of-pocket cap.
Florida Blue Plan 1439 is a BlueSelect plan available only to residents of Pinellas County and certain other counties in Florida. With a BlueSelect plan, except in an emergency, insured are restricted to certain providers and hospitals (e.g., Bayfront and Palms of Pasadena) with cost savings on the premiums.
I left the Florida Blue office with my plan selected and a free gift (a cooler I can take to the beach). Thank you, Florida Blue!
Home again, I became determined to sign up for Florida Blue Plan 1439, this time online. Unable to access my account, I called the center, where the agent advised me to keep trying. Really frustrated now, I called back and this time another agent told me to open a new account and try again.
Confused and unsure, I took the advice of the second agent. It worked like a charm. Eventually I reached this magic screen:
I then struggled through a few more screens, becoming confused as I completed the last steps. I contacted the call center, which promised to have a supervisor call within a couple of days. Fortunately, I was able to complete the process and choose my plan.
Woohoo! The site informed me I had only one step left. I had to pay for the insurance before 1/1/2014 for the plan to take effect. An agent would contact me from the insurer.
Of course, I called the number provided right away. I was connected to the wrong department. (In case you need to know, the number for payment for Florida Blue 2014 plans is 855-520-5736.)
The agent told me to call back in 48 hours. I did and was delighted to learn that Florida Blue had received my information and could take payment.
So if you hadn’t heard yet, you can say you heard it here first: Healthcare.gov is working now.
What have your experiences been?
Till next time, stay frugal and fancy-free.