As expected, exchange rollout is a bit glitchy
One of the most challenged features of President Obama’s health care reform — the insurance exchanges — is now taking enrollees.
Perhaps it was fate that opening day came the same day the federal government shut down. It was a fight in Congress over opening the marketplaces to millions of uninsured Americans that brought us to this point.
As it turns out, a rush to the marketplaces resulted in glitches that were bound to occur with a complex new program, let alone one so controversial.
If you’ve ever been involved in a major rollout of anything, you know things don’t always go as planned. In a speech recently in Maryland, Obama tried to manage people’s expectations ahead of opening day.
“Like any law, like any big product launch, there are going to be some glitches as this thing unfolds,” the president said. “Folks in different parts of the country will have different experiences. ... Somewhere around the country, there’s going to be a computer glitch and the website’s not working quite the way it’s supposed to, or something happens where there’s some error made somewhere — that will happen.”
And it did happen.
The federal government is running the marketplaces in states that elected not to set up an exchange. By 7 a.m. Tuesday, more than 1 million people had visited www.healthcare.gov, Obama said. As a result, consumers got error messages telling them to wait for a login page.
Consumers trying to access the online exchanges set up by the states also found delays due to heavy volume.
For most people, you’ll learn about what health plans are offered in your state and at what cost by connecting with the federal portal — www.healthcare.gov — or you can call toll-free at 800-318-2596.
If you are still having trouble enrolling online, call for help to fill out a paper application. Once the glitches are resolved, online enrolling should be fairly easy. You will have to create an account and then start the application process by entering some personal information such as your income and how many people are in your household.
You might be surprised at what question you won’t be asked. Starting next year, health insurance plans can’t refuse to cover you because you have a pre-existing medical condition.
During the application process, you’ll get information on whether you are eligible for subsidies to bring down the cost of your insurance. You’ll see various plan options and costs. Once you’ve selected a plan, you can enroll.
If you sign up by mid-December, your insurance coverage will start Jan. 1. But don’t worry. If you can’t enroll by then or you want to wait for the glitches to be fixed, you’ll have until March 31 when open enrollment ends.
For the 2015 plan (Jan. 1, 2015 through Dec. 31, 2015), open enrollment will run from Oct. 15, 2014, to Dec. 7, 2014.
If you live in a state that has created its own marketplace, you can go directly to the exchange website to get information about your specific insurance options and to enroll. If your state has set up a marketplace, you will sign up with that exchange.
In Vermont that’s Vermont Health Connect: www.healthconnect.vermont.gov or call 855-899-9600.
Marketplaces that were experiencing technical trouble Tuesday suggested that visitors check out the consumer information sections of their sites. That’s a good use of your wait time. Although the exchanges are open for business, there will be major learning curves and still more faults to fix.
Michelle Singletary is a financial columnist for The Washington Post.