Health Care In The States

Breaking Up With Healthcare.gov

By Annie Feidt, Alaska Public Radio Network

December 1st, 2013, 12:34 PM

Enrolling in healthcare.gov is not easy. In Alaska, just 53 people enrolled in the first month. Anchorage hair stylist Lara Imler is one of the few who got through. Now though, after she discovered problems with her application, Imler wants to cancel her enrollment.

Lara Imler tries, and fails, to cancel her policy on healthcare.gov (Photo by Annie Feidt/Alaska Public Radio Network).

“I don’t even know how to feel about the whole thing anymore because I can’t even get anyone who has an answer to help,” she says. “It’s just such a lost cause at this point.”

A few things went wrong with Imler’s healthcare.gov application. First, according to the website, she successfully enrolled in a health plan. But her new insurance company, Moda Health, didn’t have her application. When she called the healthcare.gov hotline number, no one could help her figure out what went wrong. Then she found out the website miscalculated her subsidy amount. She was supposed to receive a monthly subsidy of $366, but the website only let her use $315.

“The subsidy issue is weird,” she says. “If you look at my profile on the website it shows my full subsidy, but it says I’m only using part of it. So they know I’ve got a screwed up subsidy but they don’t know what to do with it. There’s no one directly you can talk to, to say, ‘Hey my subsidy is on there. How do I apply for all of it?’”

It turns out everyone’s subsidy in Alaska was miscalculated. Enroll Alaska, a benefits consulting group, discovered the error in mid October and suspended enrollments. It took two weeks for the the Health and Human Services Department to resolve the issue. Since then, Enroll Alaska has signed up about 80 people in the marketplace. Chief Operating Officer Tyann Boling says half the people her insurance agents sit down with have tried to navigate healthcare.gov on their own and given up.

“This is not an easy process. I think even if this website was functioning at 100 percent this would not be an easy process,” Boling says. “This is complicated. If you click on one wrong thing, there’s no back buttons, it can be a really, really nasty process to go through.”

Boling is frustrated with the website, but not as frustrated as Lara Imler. After weeks of trying — and failing — to make her application work, Imler wants a break from healthcare.gov.

She never got a packet from her insurance company asking her to pay the first premium. She figures canceling the plan — with the chance to start fresh later — is her best option.

So on a recent morning, she sat down in her living room, with her laptop and a cup of coffee to try to resolve her difficulties—but not without frustration.

“I’ve had to change my password about four times. Oh you know what, I have it written down. I cheated! There it is,” she says.

The site logs Imler in pretty quickly. And after a few clicks she finds her enrollment information:

The application that she finished on Oct. 24 says, “status, complete.” Imler clicks on the actual application and scrolls down to  an ominous looking red icon that says, “terminate coverage.”

“So you hit the terminate button. It says you’ve chosen to end the following coverage. … You then have to check ‘I have fully read and understand that I’m choosing to terminate coverage,’” she says. “Then you click terminate again and we’ll see what happens.”

What happens is nothing. The health plan Imler signed up for is still listed in her profile. She logs out and then back in, and it looks exactly the same. She checks her e-mail for a notice of coverage termination and finds nothing there either. Imler leans back on the couch and looks surprisingly calm about the whole thing:

“I’m resigned to the fact that it doesn’t work. No matter what I do, it just doesn’t work. And this is the improved website.”

When she is able to cancel her plan, Imler says she won’t be quitting healthcare.gov for good. This is a separation, not a divorce. Imler’s been uninsured for nearly a decade and wants that to change. She plans to log back into the website early next year and is hopeful that signing up for insurance will go a lot more smoothly then.

This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

30 Responses to “Breaking Up With Healthcare.gov”

  1. chuck says:

    Capitalism? The dire condition of our economy since 2008 is a direct result of capitalism run totally amuck! Simply do a web search for “JPMorgan agrees $13 billion settlement” and see what happens as Wall Street capitalists pay federal regulators to look the other way while they rape and pillage unsuspecting investors. THAT’S THE CAPITALISM THAT YOU LOVE SO MUCH, DAN! The sad part is, nobody has gone to prison…YET! Don’t kid yourself Danny Boy, capitalism is way overrated! We have social problems in the country. Very serious social problems! NEWS FLASH: The only way you solve social problems is with a social movement. It’s coming Dan…you can bet the house!

  2. chuck says:

    Hellooooooo….Frustrated,

    You said, “We are simply people with existing conditions (cancer in my case) that need and will get health insurance sooner or later.

    Here’s the truth. when you keep whining and crying about the web site problems, Republicans automatically interpret that the same as you saying that you hate the entire law and want it repealed.

    Remember this, if Republicans win the PR fight about Obamacare using web site complaints from people like you who really need health insurance but, for some strange reason, keep criticizing the portal that gets you there, you may end up with absolutely nothing! Is that what you want? Do you want to be without health insurance and have an existing condition? If not, if you really need health reform and don’t want to go back to insurance policies that get canceled when you get sick and insurance policies that are more expensive for women and insurance policies that have lifetime caps and insurance policies that refuse to cover preexisting conditions, then keep on complaining about something that will eventually get fixed. Republicans love stooges like you! Don’t be a fool!

  3. Dan says:

    Yes, Capitalism, the engine that has fueled the U.S. as the greatest country of the last 200 years, its not perfect, but allows for social mobility, we aren’t born into cast systems, a person can succeed or fail based on their own merits and decisions, or at least they could.
    Venezuela, Portugal, Greece, Spain they have some SOCIAL problems too, glad you guys are excited to be on that path. The basic philosophical difference between us is you think healthcare is a right, I think its something you should have planned for. I did plan for it, and now I’ll get to pay for everyone else who didn’t, so why did I plan again? Plus what message does this say to our young? Do whatever you want, don’t be responsible, Uncle Sam will take care of you. Who’s being the fool, the people that believe the government can provide them with everything or the person who takes steps to provide for themselves. In the short-term it may be the latter, but eventually someone will have to pay the bill and when the takers outnumber the makers its the beginning of the end. Feel free to bet the house on that Chucky.

  4. chuck says:

    News Flash Danny Boy…the uninsured get healthcare! Guess who pays? YOU! For decades, your have been paying for the uncompensated (routine) healthcare that hospitals dole out to every uninsured person that walks through their emergency room (ER) doors. An estimated $1200 per year is what each insured person pays in hidden premiums to cover the uninsured in the ER. The problem is, as a Tea Party Republican, you’ve been brainwashed into thinking that as long as we deny Obamacare for the uninsured, they will somehow behave themselves and not go to the ER for the routine care. Dan, listen carefully! You are paying for them today. You were paying for them yesterday. And, you’ll continue to pay for them as long as you insist that they stay uninsured and not be mandated to buy insurance. How stupid can Republicans be? They had a good idea when the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation dreamed up mandated health insurance back in 1989. Mitt Romney adopted that idea as Romneycare (2006) and now 98 percent of the residents in Massachusetts have health insurance. Hospitals in Massachusetts aren’t going broke delivering uncompensated health care because 98 percent of the people coming into their ER’s are insured. How stupid can Republicans be to want to continue to pay an estimated $1200 per year to cover people that refuse to buy health insurance? DUMB! Really DUMB! Do you really think you can make people plan to be responsible? Do you actually believe that you can make people be responsible voluntarily? Are you nuts? Some people will always need the boot! Some people will always need to be forced to buy health insurance, Get it yet Danny! That’s what mandated health insurance does. It’s the boot! It forced the deadbeats to buy health insurance. Get it yet Danny?

  5. cindy in CA says:

    CHUCK – we (John Q Public) are also paying for the new round of people who will be eligible for medicaid through more and more taxes. Also the people who make little enough to get the subsidies!! We pay for them all. I think we’ll pay more now than when they just dropped in to the ER for emergencies. Just my take.

  6. chuck says:

    Cindy,

    Yeah? What makes you think we aren’t paying for the deadbeats right now? What makes you think we haven’t been paying for the deadbeats for the last five decades? The truth is…we’ve always paid for the deadbeats that regularly visit the hospital emergency room (ER) for their expensive uncompensated care! New Flash: When the uninsured have Medicaid, they have health insurance! Get it? They are no longer uninsured! Get it? They can go see a doctor on a regular basis. Get it? They gradually get healthier by seeing a doctor on a regular basis. Get it? They don’t need to get their expensive routine healthcare at the hospital ER any longer. Get it? The most expensive healthcare available to the uninsured is at the hospital ER. Get it? Now, do I need to dumb down the conversation and go to all the trouble to explain how much money insuring the uninsured saves people like you and me who are paying premiums? Did you read my explanation to Danny about hidden premiums? Every person that currently pays health insurance premiums will save an estimated $1200 per year in hidden premiums that they pay now and that they wont pay once the uninsured are fully insured. When the uninsured are insured, hospitals can’t cost shift any longer. Having poor people on Medicaid is much less expensive than having poor people uninsured and visiting the ER! Am I getting through? Cindy?

  7. leetocchi says:

    Chuck, Obviously you don’t GET IT. The miss of Obamacare was to provide all inclusive plans, for middle class workers, yet magically expanded medicaid to 133% of the poverty level, In California (bright spot of exchange sign-ups) the reimbursement for medicaid is 48th in the US. Lots of folks signing up for the exchange to avoid medicaid (where you have insurance which no doctor can afford to take). That expansion has or will take some who were just getting by and some paying for their own coverage. Now that you and Obama have promised to take care of their health needs don’t let them down. Because if republicans are mean saying ” support youself and your own healthcare”…then democrats are far worse saying ” we will take care of you”, but when they need it there is no care. Kinda like “if you like your plan you can keep it”
    The health reform you talk about should have addressed the poor and it will take many more dollars to get Medicaid fixed. That’s why states didn’t take the extension money. Instead the political idiots tried to take over the whole system.

    And if you think the hidden premiums will suddenly come back to individuals gotta bridge across the bay you should look at.

  8. chuck says:

    Gotta bridge to sell? Do me a favor Einstein…go try to sell it to the next hospital that goes broke trying to keep up with your Tea Party plan to continue to force hospitals to provide uncompensated healthcare to the 50 million Americans without health insurance. The next epidemic in America is the epidemic of hospitals shutting their doors to emergency care because Republicans like you want to remain in the dark ages and continue the class warfare of kicking poverty level citizens to the curb and denying them healthcare. Remind me again…what is it about class warfare that you and your Tea Party Republicans love so much? Remind me again…what is it about pushing poor people down that you seem to relish so much? Then, kneeing them in the face as they try to get up to their feet? Gotta bridge to sell genius? If you can find a Republicans President sometime in the next few decades, sell it to him (never a her). My guess, you’ll own that bridge for a very long time.

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  10. chuck says:

    In my opinion, the reader has but one takeaway after reading this article. After complaining so loud about the broken health exchange web site that she apparently attracted the attention of public radio, the irony is, the star of the story seems to be so desperate that she’s intent upon returning to try to sign up for health exchange insurance later on. In my opinion, that says one thing loud and clear. Like millions of other uninsured Americans, Obamacare is her only hope to get affordable health insurance! Republicans offer no plan of their own and would rather leave her uninsured. Democrats are at least trying to get her affordable insurance coverage. The only Republican plan? If you get sick, die quickly!

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