Culture

Navigating the Obamacare Marketplace Labyrinth

Having followed the debate over the Affordable Care Act fairly closely over the last few years, I was curious about the insurance plans being offered under the federal exchange in Ohio. Actual hard numbers have been hard to come by; it seems like they’ve been a more closely guarded secret than the codes to launch the nation’s nuclear warheads. I tried to log on to the site on October 1st, the day the “Marketplace” launched, but after several unsuccessful attempts, I gave up. Today I decided to try again.

I went to www.healthcare.gov and chose “Ohio” from the drop-down menu. Just like visiting a government agency in person, I found that I would be required to wait in line — albeit a virtual line. Take a virtual number.

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After about 30 minutes, I finally made my way to the front of the line. My number was called and I was invited to create an account — a user name and password. The instructions said that the user name and password were case sensitive. I followed the instructions and checked my email for the link to authenticate the new account and then tried to sign in. The system did not recognize my user name and password. I knew they were correct because I had copied and pasted them into my clipboard so I’d have them handy. I tried a couple more times, but each time I was greeted by a message saying that the information I had entered was invalid.

 

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Even though I knew the username I entered was correct, I clicked on the “Forgot your username?” link. The name they sent me back via email was all caps, even though I had created it with both uppercase and lowercase letters per the instructions.

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Nevertheless, I complied with the email and entered the all caps username. Still no luck. The system could not find a profile that matched the information I provided them — the username that they had just emailed me.

 

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I tried resetting the password.

 

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Same problem. The system could not find the username.

 

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A sane person would have given up at this point, but I decided to muscle through.

Finally, I tried entering my original username and password. This time, it looked like I might be successful. It seemed like it was connecting to….something.

Unfortunately, it connected to nothing. A blank white screen with two words of text in the upper left corner.

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Downstream error. Whatever that is.

I tried again a few times with the same result and decided to come back later and try again.

When I returned to try to log in to the system, I again had to stand in the virtual line. Another half hour. Finally, I entered my username and password (perhaps with just the right amount of keyboard finesse?) and I was in. I thought that finally I would be able to check the plans and prices for the so-called “Marketplace” in Ohio.

Not so fast.

First, my friendly “Marketplace” greeted me with a warning that the feds monitor all traffic to the site and they required my consent “to such monitoring and auditing.”

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Since I hadn’t yet provided them with any personal information, I accepted their conditions and soldiered on, although with a bit more trepidation, knowing I was under the watchful eyes of Big Brother.

I clicked through several screens instructing me about exemptions and options for small business owners, but then, a red flag:

 

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The next screen said I would need to verify my identity before I could “create a Marketplace account and complete an application.” And unfortunately, the only way to compare plans and check the rates is to “create an account and complete an application.”

Back in August I had attended a meeting that the Department of Health and Human services held in Cleveland to talk about the impending healthcare “Marketplace” in Ohio. There, I learned that the federal exchanges were going to “ping” the Department of Homeland Security and the IRS, but they never mentioned that the website would also connect with my credit report.

  • You’ll be asked questions based on information in your credit report.
  • You’ll answer from a list of possible choices.
  • Your information will be compared with information in your credit report.
  • When you answer enough questions correctly, you’ll be able to continue.
  • If your identity can’t be verified online, you’ll be told what to do next.

 

Why do I need to verify my identity    HealthCare.gov

 

How many questions would be “enough” for the federal government?

As it turns out, as the Washington Post reported last week, “the federal government is paying Equifax to collect annual income information on consumers so they have another resource to check people’s eligibility for subsidies.” So it appears they are also using the information from credit reports to verify the identity of site users. Are they collecting credit information on all Americans or only those who try to buy health insurance through the federal exchanges? And on which page — of the 20,000 pages of federal Obamacare regulations — do we find that directive?

The next screen asked for my personal information: name, address, phone number, Social Security number, etc. so the system could start verifying my identity via my credit report.

Having seen how buggy and unreliable the site is, I decided it would not be safe to hand over my personal information. After all, I was just browsing.

After spending about two hours of my time, I have no more information about the plans being offered on the new federal exchanges in Ohio than I did when I began. I’m left wondering why information about the plans and the rates isn’t easily accessible to the public. Why should consumers be required to connect to the IRS, DHS, and the credit bureau in order to shop for insurance on the federal healthcare exchange?

When I hear the word “Marketplace” it conjures up an image in my mind of a local farmers market with a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and friendly local vendors who provide great customer service and don’t mind haggling over prices.

The federal healthcare “Marketplace” is nothing like that.

It combines the worst features of the DMV with the intrusiveness of the NSA and the IRS. The last time I remember waiting in line to log onto a website was back in the early ’90s when we had a dial-up modem and we used the public library’s free internet service, which had limited bandwidth. Now, we are told that government bureaucrats, who cannot be trusted to roll out a simple website — which, let’s face it, is not rocket science in this day and age — should be trusted with our health. If today’s experiment with the “Marketplace” is any indication of the quality of American healthcare in the hands of the federal government, prepare to have your next colonoscopy done with that cheap webcam they use to take your driver’s license photo at the DMV.

More: IT Experts Weigh In on Obamacare System