Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Little Progress on Healthcare.gov and Great Success at BCBSM

Tuesday, I detailed my Day 1 misadventure through the healthcare.gov exchange.  Today, I have a bit of good news.

I tried to get onto healthcare.gov early this morning.  I got the now familiar "too many visitors" screen.  I have to admit, I think this is about as pretty a wait screen as I've ever seen.




It said to wait, so I went about my daily routine.  I had forgotten I had even tried to log in, but noticed that the browser was still open.  I was able to login, set up a user name, and get to the security questions.  On Day 1, the dropdown menus did not work, just showing blank entries.  However, I got this today.



After recovering from feeling sad that I don't know either of my grandmother's nicknames, I filled in a couple of questions.  The site accepted my answers and sent me an email.  I received a confirmation email, hit the link there, and got the "Success" page.


Now we're cooking!  I hit the green "continue" button in the lower right corner, but that was the end of the line.


So access denied was the end today.  I was not able to log in with my new, hard won user name and password.

I went over to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan's website.  It turns out that you can enter the information there to find out how much their policies cost and what the coverages will be.  I was able to confirm which of our doctor's are in their networks.  In addition, they have a calculator that computes the subsidies based on income.  In short, it does the kinds of things healthcare.gov was supposed to do. The only downside is that you only get their policies, whereas healthcare.gov is supposed to give competitive options from many companies.

So kudos to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.  If you live in Michigan, you should be able to get a good idea of where you stand by going there.

Let's have a few Obamacare headlines:

Rightwing Rants





Hard News







Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Delay of the Obamacare Individual Mandate May be Necessary

As the partial government shutdown continues, one compromise proposal is to fund the government including Obamacare but to delay enforcement of the individual mandate requiring most everyone to buy insurance next year.  The House in fact sent such a bill to the Senate but the Senate rejected it.

The logic behind the Republican proposal to delay the individual mandate is straightforward.  The Obama administration has already delayed enforcement of the employer mandate, the requirement that large businesses to provide insurance to full-time employees by one year.  The President did this without Congressional approval, but apparently as a matter of discretion not to collect the penalties.  What drove that decision was not politics, but according to the government was because they are not ready to collect, process and act on information from employers as to whether they are in compliance or not.  Republicans say that if the government can give a break to big business, it should give a break to everyone.

Could a delay work?  One of the key promises of Obamacare is that people with pre-existing conditions  will be able to obtain insurance at the same rates as everyone else.  This is a bit like waiting until your house is on fire to buy homeowners insurance.  If people wait until they get sick to get insurance, the whole system will go bankrupt.  Insurance necessarily depends on most people paying in and not having losses.  Insurance is there for the few who have something go wrong.

That's why there's an individual mandate.  Because the government fears people will wait until they are sick to get insurance, they must be forced to buy insurance.

One of the weaknesses of Obamacare is that the penalties are small compared to the likely cost of insurance.  Here's a chart from the Small Business Guide to Obamacare showing the approximate penalties for 2014.

The penalties aren't enough to force people to buy insurance.  Delaying ineffective penalties may have little to no effect.  If that is the case, people could be allowed a year to see how the exchanges function, what their employees will do, and what the individual market looks like after implementation.  This seems like a winner all around.  If Obamacare works, the President wins because people won't feel like they are being forced into something.  If Obamacare doesn't work, the Republicans will be able to claim that they saved people from a bad system.

Given the total failure of the exchanges to function in many states, perhaps taking a year to get them up and running might be a good idea.  It's just not fair to penalize people for failing to get insurance when the system does not work.  Moreover, it's not fair to penalize those who have concerns that the security and other features won't work on the exchange sites.  Perhaps this is something where waiting to get it right will be worth the wait.

It seems like a fair compromise to me.  What do you think?

Now for Today's Obamacare Headlines:

Leftwing Cheerleading

How Oregon's exchange actually works.

Hard News

Enrollment encounters glitches.

Glitches and high traffic lead to exchange malfunctions.

Obamacare quiz results.

What small business needs to know about the exchanges.

Healthcare.gov crashes.

Tough choices for small business under Obamacare.

PPACA burdens entertainment industry.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Obamacare Glitches--A Michigan Resident's October 1 Misadventure

Today is the day and as expected, the Obamacare exchange rollout has been problematic at best.  President Obama himself said we should expect some glitches in the first few months the exchanges are open.  Twitchy has a great summary of people reporting their experiences with the exchanges.

Let's start with the definition of glitch.  I found this definition:

"A minor malfunction, mishap, or technical problem; a snag."

Here's my experience this morning, which appears to be typical.  You can decide for yourself whether "total failure to function" counts as "a minor malfunction, mishap or technical problem."

Michigan has no exchange of its own, so that means you go to the federal site www.healthcare.gov.  The welcome page looks like this.  I suppose if I were as young and happy as this model, I'd be smiling too.

"I'm as famous today as I'm ever going to get."

After hitting "Apply Now" I got to the "what state are you from?" page.  It looks like this:

"We're happy, you'll be happy."
For most people, what you get is the dreaded "Health Insurance Marketplace: Please wait" screen.

D'oh!
Early this morning, I did get a bit farther.  From here, I was able to get to the next screen.  It asks for an email address, user name, and password.  I did get that to work after a couple tries.  Unfortunately, I did not make a screenshot and can't seem to get back to that point as of the time of writing.

After the user name page, you get to set up a series of security questions in case you forget your password.  For me, each question had a drop down menu but there was no text.  There was no way to put in a question to be answered.  I gave up at that point.

Others have been having similar experiences.  Even an MSNBC anchor said she reached the point where she would have given up.  She reached that point after long fruitless waits on the help line.  The funniest part is the end of the video.  She said NBC News contacted the White House and were told they are aware of the issues and are working on them.

Normal people can't even get that far.

UPDATE!  1:23 PM ET, Oct. 1.

I just got redirected to the sign up page.

Healthcare.gov Create a Marketplace Account


That worked.  Then I got the "put in the user name and password page."  Got through that, but I don't want to show you.  Gitcherown password and user name.  That takes us to the previously dysfunctional security questions page.

Healthcare.gov Security Questions

Once again, the drop down messages don't work.  I've tried them in both Safari and Firefox with the same results.  So I put in nonsense answers without knowing the questions.  Some people are reporting that the questions are things like "What's your favorite radio station to watch?"  They say there's no such thing as a stupid question, but I think they are wrong on that.

Here's the moment of truth.  I hit the "Create Account" button.  It whirs around, and then:

Healthcare.gov Your account couldn't be created.
From the "your account couldn't be created" I hit the "Return to Create Account Page" green button.  It sent me back to the start, with everything missing except it remembered I'm from Michigan.  So from there, I give up and hope to live to fight another day.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, head of the agency chiefly responsible for regulating the health industry and arguably the most powerful woman in the world stated:  “Everyone just assumes, There’s a problem, they’ll fix it, let’s move on,’” she told reporters. “Hopefully, they’ll give us the same slack as they give Apple.”  The President this afternoon echoed this "Apple has problems too" theme.

Here's the difference between Obamacare and a new Apple product.  Apple cannot shut down Google, Motorola, Blackberry and Microsoft because their products are "not good enough," as Obamacare's rules make many insurance policies illegal as not having enough benefits.  Apple cannot pass a law forcing you to buy their product as Obamacare does.  If you don't have insurance coverage next year, you'll get fined.  If Apple's rollout is bad enough, you can always go somewhere else.  That's not true when the federal government screws up, short of moving to another country.

We'll see how it goes, but I'm not optimistic.  Setting up accounts is easy.  Calculating rates and subsidies is hard.  Securing credit card information and health history information is hard.  If they can't do the easy part, it sure does not creative confidence they can do the hard part.  I may be wrong, but I don't think so this time.

There are so many Obamacare headlines today that I'm going to skip them until tomorrow.  By the way, if you find Obamacare confusing, please check out my book.  Just clink the link at the right to check it out at Amazon.  Cheers!