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My Obamacare odyssey takes another strange turn

After weeks of trying to sign up, I finally get through, only to be told it will take three weeks to process my application.

By Money Staff Nov 7, 2013 2:04PM

This post comes from John F. Wasik at partner site The Fiscal Times.


The Fiscal Times on MSN MoneyWhile Obama administration officials apologized for foul-ups and sought to spin the president’s flawed promise that if people liked their health plans they could keep them, I actually made some headway in getting into the federal insurance marketplace.


Prescription medicine expenses © Don Farrall/Photodisc/Getty ImagesAlthough I didn't get in through my online log-in -- that interface was still broken as I write this -- I did manage to "talk" my application to a telephone (  800-318-2596  ) representative and get some sample policy premiums. Some 700,000 applications for insurance were submitted to the state and federal online marketplaces since the beginning of October, Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told a Congressional committee last week. I was one of them.


I managed to submit my application to a patient customer service representative ("Sasha"), who walked me through questions on income, family members, Social Security numbers, disclosures and birthdates. There were also some questions about physical limitations and foster care, which, fortunately, were not issues for us. The whole process took about a half hour.


The moment of truth with comes when you finally get to see a range of premiums to determine if the program will be competitive with private insurance.  As I've noted in previous posts, I have a catastrophic health plan that currently costs $7,128 a year ($594 monthly) for premiums, but doesn’t cover doctor's visits, immunizations or prescription drugs. All of the plans on cover these basic services. My out of pocket limit is $6,350 on the individual private plan; it's the same for the policies ($12,700 for a family policy).


Since drugs, immunizations and doctor visits are covered in the federal exchange -- the bulk of our ongoing medical expenses for my family of four -- we're immediately ahead of the game. That's roughly a $1,200 annual savings for us. Maternity and hospitalization are also part of the basic benefits that will be covered by the exchange-offered plans, although it seems like maternity should be optional. We won't need the benefit; those who opt out should get a premium break.


I'm also hoping that the exchange plans will have minor annual increases; my private premium has risen 10 percent to 20 percent each year over the past five years.


Pricing different levels of care

In order to gauge total savings, though, we have to examine the offerings within the five exchange plan levels. Depending on how much you want to cover in terms of out-of-pocket expenses, you can choose a plan that suits your budget. There are five levels of coverage: Catastrophic, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.


The first two tiers are bare bones, covering up to 60 percent of total health expenses. Silver, Gold and Platinum cover 70 percent, 80 percent and 90 percent, respectively.


Then you need to see specific offerings within your state program. More populous states have several insurers and co-ops competing while smaller states may only have a few policies listed.

In Illinois, there were a wide variety of plans within each level. Here's a sampling:

 These premium amounts, however, are not necessarily the final amount those buying insurance on the exchanges will pay. As the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated in a report released Tuesday, some 17 million people will be eligible for tax credits that will reduce (or, for some 7 million people, potentially eliminate) the cost of their insurance. My family doesn't qualify for the subsidies because of our income, so the premium ranges I'm seeing are likely good estimates.


What I don't know is why there's such disparity between insurers within a given plan level. Most of the prices I quoted were for Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO), although you can also get quotes from Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO), where the choice of providers is limited to the insurers' networks and the mode of care is constrained. The premium quotes I saw were estimates, so there's more to this story.


By the way, if you can't submit an application online or don't want to deal with the phone reps, Sasha told me of a back door to see sample policy rates: Go to the search box on and enter "plan estimates without applications," then enter your state. Some policies will pop up, so you can get some idea of what to expect.


At first blush, the $435 Bronze monthly premium looks appealing, although I will need more information on whether my doctor and providers are within the insurer's PPO.


We should come out ahead on out-of-pocket expenses since in our worst-case year we spent some $15,000. My back-of-the-envelope guess without seeing actual policy documents is that our family could save from $2,000 to $4,000 annually with the cheapest policy. That's real money, especially considering that my current plan doesn't cover doctor's visits, drugs or clinical diagnostics. But I always reserve judgment until I see the fine print.


Can I get a comparable or better deal through an insurer on a private brokered exchange? When I first tried to compare the rates with an online private exchange I've used in the past -- -- I ran into an unexpected irony: Their server was down, too.


Still, it's vexing to me -- and millions of other Americans in my situation -- that the government didn't hire some competent contractors to get up and running. They had three years. Meanwhile, the political liability is still ballooning for the Obama administration and fellow Democrats. 

To date, my customer service experience with has been worse than that with my cable television/internet provider, which has often been dreadful over the years. I was told by the rep that my application would take three weeks to process. It takes less time to order a whole house of appliances, have them delivered and installed -- with a cable hook-up.


That’s not an encouraging sign for a program that will need to attract millions of customers to work as intended and has struggled to get those sign-ups so far. Through the first month of the exchange's existence, nearly 60 percent of "potentially eligible adults" said they were aware of the marketplace, although only one in five actually enrolled, according to a survey by the Commonwealth Fund (.pdf file).


An even greater concern is the report that only one-fifth of site visitors were in the coveted 19-29-year-old demographic, a key group that can help balance overall expenses and premiums.


The troubles thus far don't mean that the health care marketplaces can't work — or provide lower-cost insurance. Yet potential customers throughout the entire country are still on hold. Will they hang up for good before the system gets fixed?


More from The Fiscal Times:

Nov 7, 2013 2:20PM
this writer thinks premiums will go down in the exchange in future years, well sorry pal but you ain't seen nothing yet. Just wait until adverse selection hits, and insurance carriers meet spending targets not savings goals. The premium for the 2 of use was about $500 a month and now will be $950 a month with a per person deductible of $5000, the good news is my 58 year old wife now has maternity and we have pediatric dental, ugh and going to get worse
Nov 7, 2013 2:38PM
"I managed to submit my application to a patient customer service representative ("Sasha"), who walked me through questions on income, family members, Social Security numbers, disclosures and birthdates"

Congrats, your identity has probably already been stolen.  Why would anyone in their right mind willfully enter all this info into a system that has been proven to lack even the most basic security measures?
Nov 7, 2013 2:36PM
What did you expect from an incompetent leader of a socialist/communist party?
Nov 7, 2013 2:35PM
Hey Nancy, now that I've seen what's in it, I want to re-wrap and give it to someone else for Xmas!
Nov 7, 2013 2:37PM
Obama was and is a joke just like his socialist views.He had a chance to be a good president but his contribution to history is and will be one of epic fail that shows what happens when a celebrity with any questionable skills is elected president.
Nov 7, 2013 2:44PM
Bozo and his minions have managed to turn a $97 million web-site into a $600 million fiasco in just a few months..., Does anyone really believe anything these morons created is going to SAVE us money?  Get real!  Someone's going to pay..., and that someone is going to be us!  Why do you think the Government and all it's employees "opted out"?
Nov 7, 2013 2:25PM

The insanity of the Libtards knows no bounds---

Thanks Bozo!

Nov 7, 2013 2:54PM
We ALL are stuck with a president who won't listen to what the American people wants. Him and his democrat friends forced this Obamacare on us and now we have big government more involved in our personal business. Now we have a big mess that's going to cost the tax payer out the you-know-what. He lies to us and expects us to believe him and unfortunately there are a lot out there who do believe him anyway no matter what. I am glad my dad nor my grandad did not live to see any of this happening. Both were spared of the heartache of this mess we are all having to deal with because of this incompetent president or con-man. Whichever you view him as. He is slowly draining this country into bankruptcy and taking away our freedom. 
Nov 7, 2013 3:05PM
Where is Michelle Obama in all of this? Why is she so quiet? CGI got the contract because one of Michelle's school buddies at Princeton is a top exec at CGI.  WHY ISN'T SHE BEING GRILLED ABOUT THIS?  Is she too busy out telling people to drink more water and make better food choices?
Nov 7, 2013 2:36PM

Ahh it's counter intuitive to say that premiums will go down.  The more unhealthy preexisting condition people get on the faster and more insurance companies will have to pay out claims.  This will increase premiums and not lower them.  If the rates are now before people are filing claims, then what do you think they will be when more and more claims get paid out?

Nov 7, 2013 2:54PM
Hey everybody just relax it's all ok now obumer has given the union their exemption and it will only cost tax payers  $600 million +
Nov 7, 2013 2:42PM

Interested in knowing: you said you had bare bones and applied for bare bones catastrophic coverage, but what is the deductible - I read nothing about that? And you do admit that though you seem to promote a good warm fuzzy feeling about it positively being better for you - you sate you won’t be sure until you read the fine print.

Suggestion: why not wait the three weeks for you to get the "all" the real info (fine print and all) and then give me all of the information upfront including the deductible. After all - then you will have all the facts and then you can say if it is better or not. But telling me you have some facts and are waiting to check the fine print why you give a glowing stellar "Good job" pass on this is nonsense.

Nov 7, 2013 2:47PM

He talks of premium increases over the last 4-5 years ranging from 10-20% per year. Over the last 4, all those massive increases were due to OBAMACARE. Once the law was passed, the Insurance companies immediately began raising rates to cover all the goodies the law required be "given" away from the start. You know, all those positives Obama talked about non-stop, hoping that when the lousy part of the law started to take effect, NOW, you wouldn't mind paying through the nose. Things like;

Kids on policies till 26, and;

No pre-existing conditions, and;

No-limit coverage (lifetime caps).


Yet limo-liberals seem to believe that we will believe their spin that all of this should come to us at NO COST. Duh ! ! !


There is no FREE Lunch boys and girls. Everything you get, and now there will be less quality and choice, but you will not only need to pay more for it, but you will now be required to pay a portion of someone else's as well.


But the BAD news is, this is only getting started. Just wait until the other dozens of shoes drop as this "plan" the Socialist Party rammed down our throats unfolds.

Nov 7, 2013 2:53PM
For all those wanting this repealed, when you lose your coverage, REFUSE to buy a policy if you are healthy. Your out of pocket + fine will be much less than the premiums and IF something catastrophic does happen, you can sign-up for a policy ANYTIME, year round, even if you are past the enrollment deadline. Because if you are past the deadline, the only difference is, you will have to pay the penalty for that year, but you can still get coverage without being denied, remember, no pre-existing can exclude you.
Nov 7, 2013 2:34PM
The FDS spends more time and money to approve a new drug before it is released to the public.  Drug researchers test their new products on ginea pigs before they try them on humans.  A "good" researcher would try their new drug on themselves before trying it on another human. So, what's with Obamacare?  If the creators of Obamacare are so sure it wil be successful, why didn't they test the system on themselves.  I think our mantra should be, "YOU FIRST"!!!  Hey, if they did that, maybe they could have all the bugs out of it before they force it on the population.  Ah-h-h, that is IF it worked!!!  Any guesses?
Nov 7, 2013 2:45PM
well if it helps make the site work more efficient (joke) I will stay off ant not bother getting insurance. I was not planning on changing anything until I received 3 rate hikes in less than 1 year with the explanation being that they had to change to comply with the new ACA law. so I will be dropping the insurance and not having any. as for the fine they can cram that where a proctologist might find it.. they cant enforce the fine anyway
Nov 7, 2013 3:03PM
Please update this article when you have firmly enrolled and made your first payment i.e. your estimate vs your reality.  I don't question your experience.  It is simply that my 40 years in business leads me to believe that much more for much less (or even the same) cost smells fishy.  Someone has to pay for that 15 million who never had insurance and now have it FREE, FREE, FREE.
Nov 7, 2013 3:30PM

I came across Nancy Pelosi being interviewed by Charlie Rose the other night and I could only watch for a couple of minutes since she made me gag!  She was arguing with him and defending Obamacare to the hilt and saying that only 5% of people will lose their insurance and the insurance they will get will be SO MUCH BETTER THAN WHAT THEY HAD.  Well, I have a hot news flash for Pelosi:  PEOPLE DON'T WANT "BETTER" INSURANCE, THEY WANT "AFFORDABLE" INSURANCE! 


It was so sad to see this puppet of Obama trying to defend this fiasco of a health care program.  She was like a rat on a sinking ship trying to cling to a scrap of wood to stay afloat as the ship goes down.

Nov 7, 2013 3:23PM
The opening paragraph talks about obama's, FLAWED PROMISE about how you could keep the healthcare that you already have if you want to. A lie is a lie.  It's not a flawed promise. It's a lie!

A guy like me doesn't need the maternity part that I'm being forced to buy. I don't need the pediatric dental stuff because my kids are in their thirties. Liberals are such fools.

I wonder how much other hidden BS there in this socialist plan with thousands of unread pages.
I'm not signing up for this crap. This is about as goofy as the article that I read about queers getting hitched at West Point. This stuff is not for me, and this guy is not my president! RIP/USA.

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