Mon, Dec 02 2013
Vickie Fleisher-Gann had been trying since Oct. 1 to complete her Obamacare application so she could start shopping for insurance on healthcare.gov, but she kept getting stopped by error messages. With her policy expiring at the end of the year, she feared time was running out.
On Sunday morning, the former Harrisburg, Pa., hospital administrator finally was able to complete her application, shop for a plan and enroll — all within about 30 minutes. “I was shocked when it worked,” said Fleisher-Gann, 61. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
The Obama administration had promised since late October that its crippled online portal would work for most people by Nov. 30. And consumers in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oklahoma and Ohio said in interviews that they did notice a big difference when they tried to sign on. Like Fleisher-Gann, many people who have been stymied completing their application were able to finish them and for the first time, start shopping for plans. Not everyone had that experience, however. And some insurers warn that back-end problems that have left them with inaccurate consumer information have yet to be fixed with less than 30 days to go before the new policies are supposed to take effect.
The federal online marketplace at healthcare.gov is for people in 36 states who are shopping for individual health insurance. Fourteen states are running their own online exchanges. Consumers have until Dec. 23 to be enroll for coverage by Jan. 1, but for those who miss that deadline, enrollment will continue until March 31.
One of the biggest changes on the federal website is a new queuing system that, during peak usage periods, will offer consumers the choice of waiting in line, or receiving an email when there is enough capacity to handle their applications.
Another is a new “reset” button that asks users if they’d like to scrap their old applications and start anew. The system recommends this for people who have faced error messages with their initial applications.
That’s what Fleisher-Gann did. She filled out a new application, answering about 25 questions including providing her name, address, phone number and Social Security number. The application also asks a security question, such as the location of a first job or the middle name of an oldest child. If a consumer is applying for federal subsidies to lower their insurance costs, they must also answer questions about their household size, current income and estimated 2014 income. They must also certify all the information is true.
Within seconds of submitting the application online, Fleischer-Gann received a notice that she was approved for a subsidy and that she could start comparing more than a dozen plans. She chose a Highmark policy that will cost her $293 a month after the subsidy, slightly more than she pays now. But the new plan has richer benefits and lower out-of-pocket costs.