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Descent Into Madness: An Account of One Man’s Visit to Healthcare.gov October 1st

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As the owners of small businesses, my family has been curious to learn how much insurance would cost us once the Affordable Care Act kicks in – and what our choices of networks, providers and whatnot would be.

With the arrival of the October 1 open enrollment period, my first computer stop was healthcare.gov to begin comparison shopping among the four ACA plans vs. the COBRA plan that we have through the end of 2014.

Here’s how it went:

October 1, 2013

7:30 a.m. – I first encounter the Health Insurance Marketplace waiting room.

7:33 a.m. – The drop-down boxes on the security questions aren’t working.

7:34 a.m. – The healthcare.gov website blames users for errors it created.

7:36 a.m. – I click on the “Live Chat” button.

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7:48 a.m. – Live chat robo-message says, “Please be patient while we’re helping other people.”


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8:21 a.m. – After telling me to “Please be patient while we’re helping other people” more than 30 times, the robo-message tells me they are having technical problems – but they hope they answered my question.

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9:41 a.m. – @HealthCareGov Tweets, “Thanks for all your comments and updates as you enroll. We apologize that wait times on the site and hotline are longer than expected! We’re working to fix these issues as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience.”

10:00 a.m. – HHS spokeswoman says, ”We have built a dynamic system and are prepared to make adjustments as needed and improve the consumer experience.”

11:00 a.m. – HHS Tweets, “Have a story about what health insurance means to you & your family? Tell us using #GetCovered.@HealthCareGov.”

11:00 a.m. – I tell them I can’t set up an account. They don’t respond.

11:00 a.m. – 10 p.m. – I try periodically to get on to the site. Hours spent in waiting room, followed by security question drop boxes not working.

Sometime during the day – President Obama says the long waits prove how badly the program was needed and compares ACA to iOS7.

(Note: I got iOS7 on opening day.)

5:51 p.m. – Secretary Sebelius, after urging people to sign up in the morning, retweets this from @HealthCareGov: “2.8 million people have visited http://HealthCare.gov today and we’ve received 81k calls! We’re excited so many people want to #GetCovered

10:42 p.m. – After another lengthy wait in waiting room, the drop boxes finally work! I am just inches from seeing my choices!

10:43 p.m. – Or not:

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10:46 p.m. – I, of course, hadn’t chosen the same security answers to different questions. But, whatever. I choose separate security questions and answers – and advance to the next page!

10:47 p.m. – I receive an email to verify my account. I. Am. So. Close. Or not:

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10:48 p.m. – Two tries later, and I’m in!

10:49 p.m. – Or not:

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10:50 p.m. – And, of course, I’m sent back to the waiting room:

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11:49 p.m. – And this is what I’m looking at an hour later:

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October 2, 2013

12:25 a.m. – I close the laptop and go to sleep, only incrementally closer to learning what my health insurance options are.

7:58 a.m. – After a lengthy waiting room stay (hello, my old friend!), I’m told my username and/or password is wrong.

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7:58:30 a.m – Still wrong.

7:58:43 a.m. – Still wrong.

7:59 a.m. – 8:25 a.m. – Back to the waiting room.

8:26 a.m. – healthcare.gov tells me the account it says I created and verified at 10:50 p.m. the night before does not exist:

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8:27 a.m – And back to the waiting room.

Tony Jewell is the founder of Boardwalk Public Relations in Ventnor, New Jersey. He is a former corporate and state and federal government spokesman. This post originally appeared in his blog, Life in the Affordable Care Act.

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37 replies »

  1. fantastic points altogether, you simply received a
    new reader. What would you recommend in regards to your post that you just made a few days
    ago? Any positive?

  2. I have experienced nothing but negative with the healthcare marketplace. For starters, my personal, non-work provided healthcare has gone up substantially. My employer pays me extra so we can pay for our personal healthcare and my rates have increased substantially with the new legislation and implementation of the healthcare market place. After calculating the expenses of regular check-ups, prescriptions, o-pays etc. for my family of 4, I have come to the conclusion that I would now be better off paying out of pocket so I do not have to cover those that can’t afford to pay for themselves. What a joke this is, just another thing that the middle class has to pay for.

  3. I am SHOCKED and AMAZED to be a part of all this Government’s Healthcare Debacle.
    Reports have it that I am the only person here in the whole state of North Carolina, that successfully enrolled on the HEALTHCARE.GOV’s website.
    I finally enrolled on the HEALTHCARE.GOV website a couple week ago only after numerous failed attempts to enter the website to do so. Even after finally being able to enroll though, I still haven’t taken the last step to purchase a insurance plan as of date to finish my enrollment.
    After hearing them talk about the number’s of American’s that still had not enrolled on the news Tuesday night,(11-12-13) and that only one person here in the state had enrolled, my first thought was “There is no way.” that can be, surely that can’t be me!!! But after reading the following article I then realized that the one single person to enroll was ME!! Wow what the odds of that?? Article here: http://ow.ly/qLZ3r SmokinDaveWNC

  4. Well, guys… Here goes my rant… Maybe you’ve heard it before…

    I don’t have credit so I could not be verified through Experian (the worst of ALL the big three, thanks Mr. President), and so I had to upload my verification documents to the healthcare website, which I did, and successfully after MANY unsuccessful attempts…

    That was Oct 6 (I tried signing up on Oct. 1, but it took A WEEK to finally do it).

    It’s Oct 29 now…

    MY IDENTITY HAS STILL NOT BEEN VERIFIED. When I call or chat with a rep (the rudest people on Earth are the chat reps, goodness), they just give me the runaround, tell me to try things that I’ve already tried, and when they get to the end of their cut and paste answers and see that I have exhausted every possible remedy for my issue, they either say “Give it a few more days” or “I will escalate the problem”… Yeah, I’ve heard that before, too.

    Healthcare Marketplace Alternatives MUST be your next blog post. PLEASE, I beg you.

  5. I have created a website that outlines many of the errors (a few solutions too) – http://www.turnics.com
    Hopefully they will get the site fixed. I was also finally able to get registered and select and insurance policy – it definitely took way too much effort. I can only recommend that if you run into issues, either fill out the paper app and send it in, or keep trying to create new accounts with new email addresses until you get through the identity proofing process – that seemed to be the hangup for me (I still have one account that has been awaiting verification since 10/7 so I suspect they will never try to validate it).

  6. I too have been having all the problems you listed. I am so ready to just break down and cry. What seemed like it’d be an easy process, has not been. I just thought getting health insurance quotes, or insured would be easy. Unfortunately not. I can’t wait for my hospital bills to come in the mail. Thanks internet.

  7. I’ve been exploring the site and had experiences that are similar to those described in the blog post and comments.

    Something just struck me – Because the site is using Experian to validate identification online, that means a lot of the people the ACA was intended to bring into the system – Young people with no credit history, poor people with no bank accounts or credit history – Won’t be able to use the Web site to get started and will have to go to the backup system, which seems to be picking up the phone and calling someone.

    Kids don’t make phone calls any more. They don’t even email. They text.

    🙂

  8. Based on several studies I have read about the subsidies (one of those studies looked at 15 state costs in great detail):

    1) if you are young -don’t expect a subsidy
    2) if you make over 250% of FPL don’t expect a subsidy

    What happens if we get to January 1 (or the real deadline March 31) and there are not enough enrolled to sustain premium and subsidies?

  9. What I cannot understand is why on earth a USG website would -contract out- to Experian? The Social Security Administration wasn’t available? E-Verify wouldn’t allow access? Not to mention the fact that the program is written in such a way so as to deny access to anything except IE.

  10. finally got on filled on identity form and i keep getting

    “We were not able to verify the identity of this person. Please confirm the Name, SSN, Gender and Date of Birth.”

    all my info is correct and i’ve been getting this message for the last 5 days..and on different computers..even after logging off and back on…. so i guess i don’t exist

  11. OK. Please explain why you would go to the exchange when you have access to your employer’s group plan and you make enough money to pay whatever portion, if any, your employer requires and too much money to qualify for any subsidy (legal or not)? Since you are probably in a large group program now with composite rates which are already subsidized by your younger colleagues (in addition to your employer and the tax deductions of a section 125 plan) its seems foolish to me that you would elect to go through the public exchange, especially if your shilling for it will likely upset many of your firm’s clients that do not agree with this path and may decide to stop paying your firm to employ folks that are diametrically opposed to their interests? So, are you:
    1) not working,
    2) not making any money,
    3) not eligible because your employer has reduced your hours to part time,
    4) not really going to be paying less, but want others to pay more to subsidize you, out of spite,
    5) Really just making up a story as an Obama shill much like Chad Henderson?
    Please make up a better story. Thanks.

  12. Thank you Arthur. I have been working on Health Care reform since prior to its passage. I do not believe that the current (and likely planned) litigation will undo the tax credits for States with HHS Marketplaces. Even if that were to occur, by next enrollment Michigan will have a Marketplace. Finally, if I had to pay the full amount while it would be more money out of my pocket, just being able to be insured for preventive and high cost health conditions is a god send. I believe that all people deserve a shot at a productive life. Health care, day care and education. With that, we level the playing field and those that excel reap greater benefits. I wish success for this program to be sure that all have the opportunity to provide a secure future.

  13. October 8th. Spent 2+ hours with error after error. Tried 2 different computers with different operating systems…This sucks!

  14. Found this via search of: Unexpected Error Error ID:

    Expected database/system to stabilize by now but I’ll wait a few more days (I suppose there isn’t a big rush right now to check it out).

    +’s: 1. Able to register; 2. Able to confirm email; 3. Can login (sort of)
    -‘s: 1. After login get Unexpected Error Error ID:, 2. Password requirements – a pain (but I know probably necessary).

  15. While I experienced the same difficulty expressed here, I have been able to complete the application and review the options available. While I have not made a decision on a plan yet, I have been able to determine my premium (and tax credit) as well as the reduced out of pocket cost that applies to me based on my household income. I am in a state that did nothing to create an Marketplace putting that responsibility on Health and Human Services. States that built their own Marketplace had some early difficulty but not nearly as much because they did not have half of the nation trying to log in at the same time. I am grateful that my family will have insurance beginning next year. (By the way, I had as much difficulty trying to order an iPhone 5S for my boss when they opened the web sites for those at 3:00 am EDT).

  16. I have tried the healthcare site since 10/01 and it is the same in NC, IT DOES NOT WORK. I have called numerous times to be told “a lot of people on it” that is “BS”. Go to this web site and check their servers, 99% are down 24/7: http://www.site24x7.com/find-ip-address-of-web-site.html
    You can check for yourself! The third page where the security questions are is not programmed correctly and will always fail in NC for sure. If this is the case I would suggest that the US Govt. hire an outside source, maybe Snowden could do a better job for them. These people would be fired at any company that had to be accountable.

  17. I did receive all of your errors and more. My account was set up over a month ago, and still couldn’t log on. Once I did get on, every time I attempted to update anything in my profile, I got the dreaded “unexpected error error ID: (blank)”
    At some point I got through the application process, attempted to go through Identity proofing, and was told that the answers were wrong (although the URL clearly indicated there was a timeout between the federal hub and Experian, AND I answere the exact same questions seemingly correctly when I went to AnnualCreditReport.com last week).
    After trying a couple of times, I was locked out of trying, but was given a choice to upload my documents or call Experian. I attempted to upload documents over a several day period, would select the file and click the upload button, at which point received an error message that said “Your file could not be uploaded”. After getting frustrated I contacted the chat desk who told me “I apologize for the (sic) inconveniene. Many consumers are experiencing the same issue. It has been reported and our Technical Support Team is working diligently to get this resolved.”
    I called Experian (866)578-5409 who could not locate my account and suggested I call the healthcare.gov call center number ((800)318-2596). I called them, and they said they could not generate a reference number and I should keep trying the website to see if the technical corrections are made. They cannot reset the maximum number of attempts for identity proofing, could not tell me when it would be fixed, could not direct me to anyone who could fix it. They said there is nothing else they can do except that I should keep trying. That is just sad. Since they like to compare this with Apple, I’m pretty sure Apple would have had everything fixed by now, or taken a severe hit to their stock price.
    NOW, they must have implemented some type of fix yesterday (10/5), because when I log in you get the log in screen back and have not been able to successfully log on since 10/4. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
    Nice blog though. 🙂

  18. I had a very similar experience on Oct 1. And Oct 2. And Oct 3. And I love how cheerful the call people are while they tell me they have absolutely no information for me and cannot help me at all.

    And they manage to sound so baffled about the specific questions on the website…like the “multiple answers to security questions” error message. According to them, I was the ONLY ONE having such a problem. Just keep at it, they said.

    Sigh.

    And I got a letter over the weekend saying my individual plan is going away because of “all of the options” available to me through the exchanges.

    FML.

  19. “Consumers still were seeing messages requiring them to wait before getting to a login page.” Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina were only able to enroll one person in a subsidized plan under the law”

  20. Obamacare is a very serious and sensitive issue for Americans, who have now been divided into gold, silver, bronze and platinium. Different level of premiums will give relief to all the insurance holder. In sincerity, providing insurance would be a burden for the government and the government shutting down is an indirect result of it.

    Read more on: http://goo.gl/cy7tYM

    It is a well written piece on Obamacare and Healthcare.Gov with all the repercussions described in detail.

    Thanks.

  21. I would suggest that when you spend months encouraging people to #GetCovered on October 1 it would be a pretty good idea to allow people to #GetCovered on October 1 (or October 2 … or October 3).

    No matter how challenging the existing system may be.

  22. yea, ’cause dealing with insurance companies customer service, hospital billing departments, and physician billing and claims people is a sooo much better experience today.

  23. I enjoyed the post. Clever idea and well done.

    Nevertheless, in fairness to the Feds, this is the first day, with heavy traffic and this is a big undertaking.

    Now if this ain’t fixed in a couple of weeks – another story.

  24. Obviously there is a glitch with the iOS7 and that is why no one can set up an Obamacare account. Has Apple come out with an App or fix yet that makes the HealtCare.gov website functional. I bet it costs like $3.5 billion. Geesh Apple sucks. I guess it only works on obamaphones.

  25. Thanks much.

    To your earlier question: BPR launched in June, and the ACA was a helpful variable in making the decision – given some pre-existing conditions in the family.

    So here we are. In the waiting room.

  26. “brand new company” – congratulations!

    Incorporated I’m guessing Sept. 28th??

  27. Thanks for Googling!

    Boardwalk Public Relations is a brand new company with one employee (me) so far.

    What is the cutoff?

  28. Did I say citizen?

    I meant to say “as a former VP at Burson-Marsteller …”

    Former press sec for Tommy Thompson.

    I’m not sure you qualify as a small business, dude ..

  29. Citizen reporting. This what you get when you have annoyed conservative Macintosh user who knows how to take screen shots

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