Like most people, I tried to log in to the federal website for the online Healthcare Marketplace in the first week of October and was disappointed. I was never able to get past the login screen. (Tip: Don't use Chrome on a Mac. It doesn't work!) It's been two weeks since I tried to log in and today I had great success. I will share some of my experiences and thoughts with you below.
I have a Mac and usually use Chrome as my browser. I was not able to get past the login screen using Chrome. I switched to Safari and got right in. The process and screens were simple and easy to use and understand. The biggest issue was that it took several seconds to move between screens...not a huge deal, but it resulted in needing about 45 minutes to complete the application.
After requesting your social security number and birthdate, the application verifies your identity using multiple-choice questions similar to those you have to answer when applying for a credit card or a credit report (e.g., "Which of the following streets have you lived on?" and "Which of the following companies have you worked for in the past?").
Next, you answer basic questions about each person you would like to cover. I have a husband and daughter, so I had to enter social security numbers and tax and relationship status for all three of us (joint return?, relationship to the primary applicant?). These questions were similar to those you have to answer when completing your taxes.
Since we will most likely qualify for subsidized premiums, I then had to answer some basic questions about this year's monthly income and anticipated income for 2014. This was a bit tricky. It's hard to come up with a "monthly" income when you are self-employed, and it wasn't clear whether this was before or after such deductions as self-employment taxes and healthcare premiums. I went ahead and answered using our anticipated adjusted gross incomes, but I could be way off, especially in my estimate for 2014.
Finally, I had to check through my answers and approve my application. I clicked the button and my application showed as "In progress." I could not got further. At this point, I went off to do some other things.
About three hours later, I received an email message saying that I had a notice on my application. I logged back in and didn't see anything new except that my identity had been verified. I wasn't sure what to do, so I called the 800 number. I got a human right away, which was unexpected. A delightful woman named Inez looked through my application and told me that it would take 1 to 10 days to approve my application for subsidies. This is not stated on the website and was a bit of a surprise, but it certainly makes sense. So now, I wait...
I believe that if you don't want to apply for subsidies, you can get to the plans right away. Inez said that once I'm approved, I'll get an email and I'll be able to go in and select a plan. In the mean time, I was able to look up the available plans in my area and the published sample rates.
In Tennessee, there are four companies offering health insurance: Blue Cross, Cigna, Humana, and Community Health Alliance. It looks like Blue Cross wins the price war in Middle Tennessee by wide margins. Blue Cross has pricing for two preferred provider networks: an existing network, Blue Network S, and a special exchange network, Blue Network E. The pricing for Blue Network E is cheaper but the network is much smaller. According to this article, the only doctors on the E network are those affiliated with MissionPoint Health Partners, which is basically only those at the St. Thomas Hospitals. For a side-by-side comparison, the most expensive BlueCross Silver plan for Network E is S16E at $524.40 per month while the comparable Network S plan is S16S at $616.94. (I'm using the most expensive as a reference since my husband and I are on the top end of the age scale.) We'll have to look at all the options once we're approved before we pick our plan, but this gives us a good idea of what to expect. Even without subsidies, these rates are very promising.
I've been buying individual insurance for most of the past 25 years, and this application process, while not perfect, was the easiest I've ever had to go through. It's so nice to know that we can get insurance without having to answer any health questions. I will update once we take the next step: comparison shopping and buying!