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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!

Originally posted to Libertina on Fri Oct 18, 2013 at 03:18 PM PDT.

Also republished by Three Star Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  That's very helpful. Thank you (5+ / 0-)

    for taking the time to share your experience.

  •  What happens if you obtain a subsidy for 2014 but (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane

    your projected 2014 income that you indicated on your application is not achieved with your future actual 2014 income?

    •  I ask for the seame reasons as the diary writer... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lujane, annan

      ....flexible and varying annual income from self-employment...which is significantly down in the recession

      .... and will such applications ever be deemed by the exchanges as fraudulent after the fact based on actual incomes actually received and after the subsidy has already been paid to the insurer by the feds?

    •  Depending on if you over or underestimated your (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ladybug53, Vatexia, annan, Lujane

      income, you will either get money back or have to pay back the government when you do your income report.

      You also have the choice to pay the full price monthly and get all the tax credits at once at the end of the year, but this is not the preferred option if you live paycheck to paycheck.

      •  Be careful! (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        annan, Lujane, raines, marykk

        My understanding is that if you want the subsidies, you have to apply for them during the open enrollment period. You can't get the money back retroactively if you don't take that step. (Somebody please correct me if I'm wrong.)

        If you choose to pay the full price without applying for subsidies, you're stuck. It would be better, IMO, to apply for the subsidies and estimate high if you're worried about it. That way, your payments would more than cover and you could then get a tax refund for the difference. It's not the wisest move from a financial standpoint, but if you like to pay too much in taxes and get big tax refunds rather than saving the money on your own, this might be a good option.

        Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

        by Libertina on Fri Oct 18, 2013 at 06:56:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Probably like estimating taxes... (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Vatexia, housesella, annan, Lujane, vernonbc

      As self-employed, I have to send estimated taxes in four times a year. Each year, I can choose to send either what I think I'll owe or the exact amount I owed the prior year. If I end up making more money the next year, I do not receive a penalty for underestimating as long as it's the same as the previous year. However, I do have to send the difference in with my next tax filing in April. If I make less, I get to apply the overage to the following year's taxes (or get a refund).

      My guess is that the ACA will work in a similar way. They certainly aren't going to fine people for underestimating in the first year, but you will definitely have to make up the difference in the cost of premiums if you underestimate. That's why the IRS is handling the money...they know how to manage this.

      Self-employed people have to do this with taxes every year. The bad news is that if you make significantly more than you expected, you have to come up with the difference. The good news is that you made significantly more so you should have the money to pay it. I always put a percentage of my gross income into a dedicated savings account to pay my taxes. I will include extra for healthcare premiums in 2014. I don't think it will be very different.

      Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

      by Libertina on Fri Oct 18, 2013 at 06:45:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  As I understand it, there will be a "true-up" at (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      vernonbc, marykk, LakeSuperior

      tax time. At least, that was the original Democratic plan which seems quite elegant and simple. However, the Rs are making hay out of what I am sure is a poll-tested idea about "income verification" prior to getting subsidies.

      As anyone knows who is self-employed (whether as an independent contractor or an LLC) there's absolutely no friggin' way to provide income verification this month that means anything next month.

      It's all a game. The original Democratic plan's only flaw was that it might give a cash flow loan to a few of individuals who net out at year end on the lucrative end of the equation. But I don't think that will be peanuts compared to the welfare we're already giving to multi-national corporations.

      "Let us not look back to the past with anger, nor towards the future with fear, but look around with awareness." James Thurber

      by annan on Fri Oct 18, 2013 at 09:07:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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