Arizonans who want to purchase subsidized health insurance under President Obama’s new law must do it through the federal government, which is operating the state’s marketplace.
To test this system, I tried creating an account to purchase health insurance on the federal website, healthcare.gov, last week.
I picked a user name and a password and chose three security questions with answers.
But when I tried to log in, it didn’t work. I received an error message.
Thinking that I perhaps did not properly create my account, I tried again.
The second time I received an orange message telling me there was a problem creating my account and that I should call the toll-free number. So I called 1-800-318-2596.
The woman on the phone told me the online marketplace was down and that I should try again the next day.
I decided to try a Web chat. A woman named Tinisha helped me.
(2:08:38 p.m.): Stephanie
Hi Tinisha. I am trying to create an account.
(2:09:06 p.m.): Stephanie
But I keep getting an orange message with an exclamation point telling me my account can’t be created at this time.
(2:09:18 p.m.): Stephanie
Can you help me?
(2:09:53 p.m.): Tinisha
Thanks for your interest in the Health Insurance Marketplace. We have a lot of visitors trying to use our website right now. This is causing some glitches for some people trying to create accounts or log in. Keep trying, and thanks for your patience. You might have better success during off-peak hours, like later at night or early in the morning.
We’ll continue working to improve the site so you can get covered!
(2:10:33 p.m.): Stephanie
Okay. Thank you. Do you think the glitches will ever get fixed?
(2:11:34 p.m.): Tinisha
I apologize for the inconvenience.
(2:12:00 p.m.): Stephanie
Thanks. So it will get fixed at some point?
(2:12:34 p.m.): Tinisha
(2:12:49 p.m.): Stephanie
Okay thanks for your time. I will keep trying to create an account.
(2:12:54 p.m.): Tinisha
Thank you for contacting Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat. We are here to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
I was able to get some basic information about what would be available to purchase in Arizona. A quick search turned up 119 plans with a range of monthly premiums and that for one person ranged from $89 to $319, not including any federal subsidies.
There were links to the insurance companies selling those plans, too.
But as for signing up, that was a bust. I took Tinisha’s advice and tried again Thursday and Friday with no luck.
Tucson business owner Bill Dycus was similarly frustrated. Dycus tried shopping on healthcare.gov for an hour and the only results he got were error messages. He was already feeling frustrated because he likes his current policy with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. But he got a letter from the insurance company recently saying he would need to get a new policy in order to be in compliance with the new health law.
He currently pays $285 per month for himself, his wife and two children. It’s a high-deductible plan of $7,500, with a 60/40 split until that threshold is met. Based on initial research, he doesn’t think he’ll be able to find a comparable plan for his family in 2014.
Dycus feels as though he’s been lied to because he had always understood that people who have insurance and like it can keep it under the new law.
That wasn’t true for him.
He also doesn’t like the idea of federal subsidies because it means taxpayer money is going to insurance companies.
“I am against having the government pay $5,000 a year for my health care for which have not previously needed,” he said.
I tried creating an account a few more times, and had another Web chat when I had trouble. Here is an excerpt:
(12:33:53 p.m.): Thanks for contacting Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat. Please wait while we connect you to someone who can help.
(12:33:57 p.m.): Please be patient while we’re helping other people.
(12:34:31 p.m.): Please be patient while we’re helping other people.
(12:34:37 p.m.): Welcome! You’re now connected to Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat.
Thanks for contacting us. My name is Kimberly. To protect your privacy, please don’t provide any personal information, like Social Security number, or any other sensitive medical or personal information.
(12:35:09 p.m.): Kimberly
Hello Stephanie, how may I help you today?
(12:35:23 p.m.): Stephanie
Hi Kimberly, I am having trouble creating an online account.
(12:35:55 p.m.): Stephanie
I tried in both Safari and Firefox.
(12:36:02 pm): Kimberly
I would be glad to assist you today. One moment please while I research this for you.
(12:38:02 p.m.): Kimberly
Thank you for your interest in the Marketplace and for sharing your feedback. We apologize for any technical difficulties you may be experiencing as you use HealthCare.gov. We know this can be frustrating, and we’re working around the clock to improve HealthCare.gov and to make sure your experience with it is a positive one.
(12:38:22 p.m.): Stephanie
Okay, so I should just keep trying periodically?
(12:38:26 p.m.): Kimberly
I will make a note of your feedback. In the meantime, you can still complete an application right now by selecting the following link to download a paper application:
http://marketplace.cms.gov/getofficialresources/publications-and-articles/publications-and-articles.html. Choose the application that best fits your needs under “Marketplace Consumer Application.”
You may also call the Marketplace at 1-800-318-2596 for help with completing an application or to request a paper application by mail.
(12:39:35 p.m.): Stephanie
So would the paper application just create an account for me? I am still in the exploratory stage, not ready to buy yet.
(12:39:46 p.m.): Kimberly
You can keep trying to create an account online or you can call the Marketplace at 1-800-318-2596. We can complete your application over the phone, verify your eligibility and compare plans with you as well.
(12:40:28 p.m.): Stephanie
Thanks — same question on the phone application — am I able to create an account without committing to buy anything?
(12:41:40 p.m.): Kimberly
In addition, if you are wanting to browse the plans right now without enrolling at this time, you can click on the link “See Plans Now” on the Home Page at HealthCare.gov to see what plans are available in the state you live in.
(12:42:07 p.m.): Stephanie
Okay, so the account creation is really just for when I want to buy?
(12:42:35 p.m.): Stephanie
Because I saw the plans but they didn’t have a lot of detail with them when I did a search.
(12:42:51 p.m.): Stephanie
Like deductibles, and network providers, which are important to me.
(12:44:12 p.m.): Kimberly
When browsing the plans without doing the application first, the plan premiums may not be exact whereas, when you complete the application process, the plan rates should be what is quoted exactly.
(12:44:47 p.m.): Stephanie
Okay, so I can fill out an application but it doesn’t mean I have to buy at that exact moment, correct?
(12:46:36 p.m.): Kimberly
That is correct. You would have until December 15, 2013 if you want your coverage to be effective on January 1,2014. You would need to enroll and pay your first premium to the insurance company of your choice by then. Open enrollment doesn’t end until March 2014 though.
Some people having success signing on have been using Google Chrome as a browser, says Allen Gjersvig, director of health-care innovation for the Arizona Alliance of Community Health Centers, which has a federal grant to help people enroll. Gjersvig said it’s important I enable the pop-ups when using Google Chrome.
I did not have success with Google Chrome. I did get closer but could not verify my account.
Gjersvig says there are people called navigators and certified application counselors who are helping people sign up across the state. By going to “local help” on healthcare.gov it’s easy to find the nearest person, he said. That function is working on the website, too.
On a brighter note, several Tucson residents have successfully signed up, among them Mark Cage, 62.
He created the account on Oct. 5 and after a few days of reviewing more than 100 plans he selected one and enrolled himself and his wife.
He did not qualify for subsidies but says he will be saving money.
“I am so happy to get affordable health insurance! Keep trying, the new plans are worth it,” he wrote.