She’s trying to be upbeat about it, but as open enrollment for HealthCare.gov enters its fourth week, certified health navigator Vicki Tucci has yet to help a single person to actually buy insurance. It’s not for lack of trying.
“We’ve had to reschedule clients multiple times,” because of website difficulties, said Tucci, who is the lead of six navigators with the Legal Aid Society of West Palm Beach. Although they’ve been busy and interest has been high, none of her fellow navigators has managed to enroll a client in Affordable Care Act marketplace insurance yet, she said.
In his Rose Garden speech Monday, President Barack Obama stressed that it’s quality, affordable health insurance access that’s the “product,” not a website. He added that 85 percent of Americans will get their health insurance through an employer or another means.
Still, he said “no one was madder” than he was that the website wasn’t working, “and that means it’s going to get fixed.”
Until it is, Obama encouraged people to try other approaches, such as enrolling by phone at 800-318-2596, printing out forms and mailing them in, or meeting face-to-face with a navigator.
That advice confused Tucci.
“We don’t have any better access to the website than consumers do,” she said. “If people want to go through the paper application process, we are happy to help them. We have a navigator who speaks Creole, and one who speaks Portuguese and Spanish.”
Development of the federal website was an enormous challenge, one made more difficult by the sheer number of states that opted to leave the task to the federal government rather than creating their own, as such states as Maryland, New York, Oregon and Minnesota have done.
It’s unclear how long it will take to fix what’s wrong with the federal site. The New York Times on Sunday quoted a consultant on the project who said as many as 5 million lines of code need to be rewritten, a process that could take months and likely will not be finished by Dec. 15, the deadline for buying coverage that goes into effect Jan. 1.
Legal Aid’s Tucci said that for now, she’s still advising clients that they may want to wait a few weeks and try again. She’s finding most people willing to do that. But if they must apply on paper and send it through the mail, they may want to get started sooner, because of all the document verification that’s required, she fretted.
The prospect of waiting another month didn’t upset Tamar Reno, 51, of Riviera Beach, who said she’s been without coverage since 2008.
“I guess I just don’t feel like it’s that big a deal. It’s technology. It’s going to get worked out eventually,” Reno said. “Whether we sign up today or we sign up next month, the coverage won’t go into effect until Jan. 1.”
Obama spoke of a “tech surge” now underway to work out the kinks in the system. Those “kinks” appear to run far past the account-creation page, based on the experience of Deborah Neuhaus.
She’s 62. Her self-employed husband, Heinz Neuhaus, is 63. They have spent $18,000 for COBRA-based health insurance this year, so she’s very motivated to sign up. She tested out a benefits and tax credit calculator and it projected her exchange-based insurance premium would cost only $137 a month, with tax credit. So she jumped onto the site right away Oct. 1, only to give up hours later, disappointed.
“We’ve been waiting for this,” she said. “I keep saying, ‘Don’t give up, it’s going to work.’”
But it’s been an ordeal. She tried again Oct. 8, then on Oct. 16 spent about three hours on the phone with the site’s help desk. Finally, on Oct. 17, she achieved some success. That day, she was assured she had created an account and even successfully scanned and uploaded her and her husband’s driver licenses as identification. She thought she’d be off and running, but she’s still stuck waiting for an email that confirms her identification has been verified and she’s OK’d to start shopping.
“The thing took my driver’s license and I’m still waiting,” Deborah Neuhaus said. “I’m just so frustrated.”