A few days ago I added myself to the queue for Cover Oregon, the health insurance exchange for Oregon, where I live. As mandated by the Affordable Care Act, each state has it’s own marketplace where residents can sign up and then choose and buy a health care plan for themselves. The rationale for buying it through this system rather than privately (the way people do currently it) is that:
- The government has promised that any plan on these marketplaces will cover pre-existing conditions and all that jazz
- You get a subsidy if you’re within certain percentages of the federal poverty line, and
- If you don’t purchase by December 15th (so you can get coverage by January 1st, 2014), then the government will come after you with their money-collecting, throw-your-ass-in-jail powers. (Read: You’ll get fined). Basically, it’s the law. (Unless you’re in college or your parents or employer pays for yours, in which case THEY get to go through this fun process! *sarcasm*)
I’m 19 but not covered by my parents’ plan, and my mother had been nagging me about signing up for a while now but I’d always brushed it off the way every 19 year old brushes off advice from their mother. However, I’m going to be traveling internationally for 3 months starting in January and realized it would probably be a good idea to have insurance there, so a few days ago I decided to sign up. However, since I had seen numerous articles, like this one, this one, and this one, about how the website wasn’t working, I didn’t trust it to correctly sign me up if I did it on my own. Instead, I went to an insurance agent because I figured, if anyone knew what they were doing, it would be one of them.
Since the online system has been so unpredictable, Cover Oregon has been getting an influx of paper applications and has had to transfer hundreds of workers from other departments to enter people’s data into the system by hand. I was the first person this agent had signed up online. Prior to this, he had only dealt with paper applications that he faxed into the Cover Oregon office (and, according to him, the faxing method had only recently began to work). Keep in mind that this has been supposed to be working for 2 months already (starting October 1st) , so right off the bat, things were not off to a very good start.
Each agent has his own login and password, just like any other online system, but he also has to wait for an email containing a unique PIN for each new customer he signs up before he can proceed. Maybe I’m missing something here, but why does signing up for health insurance require more security than logging into my bank account online? Especially when it’s not even secure.
When he got the PIN, the agent signed in and then proceeded to spend a good three or four minutes trying to figure out which button to click to sign up a new customer. After finally finding it, we got to the first page of the application and went through it, entering my personal information, and then household, health, and finally income information.
There was a drop-down menu to select which state I’m in, but it’s redundant since I’m already on CoverOregon.com filling out Oregon’s health care exchange’s application so obviously I live in Oregon.
The sidebar shows all the sections of the application and highlights the one you’re on, but none of them are clickable, so you have to click the “Back” button however many times in order to get to a previous section. Similarly, after going back, if you want to jump ahead to where you were previously, you have to re-fill out everything on those pages.
Months prior, the agent had been given a video tutorial by Cover Oregon on how to use the website, but the video was made and released before the site was finished. As a result, it mentioned (but didn’t go over) things that were supposed to be working by the time the marketplace opened up for enrollment (again, now two months ago).
For example, when going through the actual application it’s best to use Chrome, but once you get to the end you’re supposed to switch to Internet Explorer to upload a file. When we got to the last page, however, there was no prompt to switch browsers and upload the file. The agent ended up going through the entire application twice and re-entering in all my information, because he wasn’t sure if he had clicked the right “Submit” button the first time or if any of my data had actually gone through since the instructions he had been given were faulty. As he put it, “Your SSN and private information could be in electronic la-la land for all I know.”
He ended up calling Cover Oregon customer service when we eventually got to a screen saying something to the order of “The system’s taking a bit longer to process your request; check back in around 10 minutes”. (I don’t recall the exact wording used but I do remember it sounding extremely euphemistic.) After 15 minutes on the phone and on hold, the lady on the other side said I had been processed and was in the system. So according to her, I was enrolled. Even though the website didn’t say if I was or not, and the agent couldn’t even tell because when he signs people up, he only gets back a number assigned to each person, but that number isn’t attached to their name or any other identifying information, so he has no way of knowing who has actually gone through or not.
Now that I was signed up, I expected an email confirmation with some sort of ID number or at the very least, information on what sort of plan I qualify for (based on my income) so I could start looking for one to buy. But no, since we’re dealing with the government, I can expect to get something in the mail in the next few weeks. Not only is this not secure in the slightest, but it’s slow and will end up taking entirely more work (time, labor, money) than simply sending an email.
Cover Oregon has already cost Oregon taxpayers $300 million, including $3 million on a hokey ad campaign and $4 million to hire workers to process paper applications until the site is up and running because they “ran out of time to do adequate testing.” The entire process took a whole hour, when it should have taken at a maximum about 15 or 20 minutes. The website should have worked the way it was promised by the President (apparently it’ll be working bytomorrow, but I wouldn’t hold my breath), and I should have gotten an email confirmation. This is 2013. This is the United States. Doing something I’m legally obligated to do shouldn’t be so cumbersome that it feels like something out of a movie or a 3rd world country.
This article isn’t political. Yeah, I’m disappointed in my government for letting such an utter failure happen, but if a Republican was in office, I would feel the same way I do right now.
(Originally published on Medium)