Kate Tries to Navigate HealthCare.Gov: Updated November 17, 2014

November 17, 2014
The Maine Community College System is not going to provide a healthcare package to its adjuncts. This is not a huge surprise, but it does mean that I had to go back down that rabbit-hole. 
I re-enrolled, which was far, far easier than the last time. This time, the website works! (It still has problems. For instance, once you are in your profile, you cannot return to the main screen without hitting the back arrow. I hate websites like this.)
I discovered what I feared in February. Because I am a contract worker, and my income fluctuates from year to year, if I make the same or more income this year as last, my tax credits  will not be enough to cover my health insurance. The least expensive (and useless) health insurance is the same amount as my monthly car payments. My tax credits would cover half--and that is NOT a guarantee since those proposed tax credits are based on last year's tax returns, not this year's. (I made more money this year per credit hour, but I lost two classes, so I think my income will come out the same.)
Open enrollment has been extended to February 15, 2015. Hopefully by then, I will have my W-2s and can see if I get a different result. However, if I decide not to get insurance (because it is useless and I can't afford it), unless I remove my account from the Marketplace, I may be enrolled without my permission (a pop-up in healthcare.gov warned me of this possibility).
I refuse to let the Federal Government force me to spend money I don't have. I have not charged anything to a credit card in over 2+ years. How dare the Feds try to reteach me bad habits!!
Consequently, I may end up taking the "hit" in 2015 on my taxes (I will be punished approximately $300 worth). In general, I would be better off taking the "open enrollment" option since it cuts my insurance costs. Yet full price or half price . . . either way, in 2015, I won't have the money. At least if I wait (until after I pay off my car), I will know where the money is coming from!
The really disgusting thing is that insurance companies in Maine won't offer catastrophic insurance as a separate, non-Federally funded package since the Federal Marketplace has decided that anyone who is over 30 and not indigent doesn't qualify. (I have a call into Anthem to confirm this.)
February 22, 2014
I'm starting to do my taxes, and this is what I have discovered so far . . . I think.

First, the Health Insurance Tax Credit is not automatically folded into the 1040 form--even TaxAct, which is a fairly reliable program, required that I find and fill out an extra form: Form 8885. However, since I didn't purchase any Health Insurance in 2013, the form is irrelevant. This leads me to believe--and please correct me if I'm wrong--that if I do purchase insurance through the Marketplace to avoid the March deadline, I will have to pay for it out-of-pocket before getting reimbursed in 2015. Since my entire problem with health insurance stems from my inability to pay for health insurance right now, this doesn't help.

Update: According to the IRS, I can have Marketplace tax credit paid directly to the insurance company--this would be 2014 tax credit on the return I would file in 2015; consequently, I wouldn't be able to see how purchasing health insurance might affect my refund/income until 2015 (after the deadline). Also, in order for me to get this tax credit, my 2014 income would have to remain absolutely stable--if it varied at all, I could be surprised with a very big bill in 2015. 

This is called "awful budgeting" and "lack of transparency" when places like Enron do it, and when places like Enron do it, people get very, very upset. So why is it okay when our government does it?
Call me naive, but I honestly thought that TaxAct would present the following questions as part of the regular Federal form: "Do you have health insurance?" "Did you purchase it through the Marketplace?" "Will you purchase health insurance through the Marketplace in 2014?"
In sum, I find it bizarre that ObamaCare receives so little notice on the current tax forms although such disingenuousness is part and parcel of Washington's approach to the issue (it isn't a tax! it's a . . . .). If this insurance is so important, shouldn't I at least get some credit/recognition for getting health insurance before the deadline? And if I don't, why should I bother? I realize that these tax forms reference 2013 income, but it IS being filed in 2014, and the deadline for getting health insurance is March 2014, not December 2014. So I'm going to be penalized in 2015 for something that I didn't have for 9 months of 2014 and wasn't required to have for 3. Am I the only one who thinks this is all kind of odd?

My penalty for not purchasing health insurance, according to TaxAct, will be $200.

My employer is required to decide whether or not to give me health insurance by 2015. Since all I need is catastrophic health insurance (which is all the Marketplace can offer me in any case), I rather wish my employer would at least present us contract workers with that option (perhaps at a group cut rate). However, I'm not holding my breath.
(The adjuncts' union HAS forced the college to agree that adjunct hours won't be deliberately cut to avoid this issue; I'm not a fan of unions in general, but I have to give ours credit for this one. The college's pretense that it had "suddenly" discovered a need to limit adjuncts' hours per semester for reasons completely unrelated to health insurance was hard for even a sanguine Libertarian like me to take. I doubt the college system can afford health insurance for all adjuncts, but a reduction in hours would destroy my ability to be an adjunct at all--ironically, when one considers Obama's supposed love for education and educators. Besides, I rather dislike bureaucrats haphazardly inventing rules to try to avoid the consequences of their own behavior. If current academic powers-that-be don't like using adjuncts, then change the system! I wouldn't like such a decision, but I would respect it.
But of course, rehauling the system would negatively impact the powers-that-be. Ain't politics wonderful.) 
February 14, 2014
Towards the end of December, I finally got access to my eligibility results.

I am not eligible for Medicaid, which I knew before I applied. I occupy a not atypical position in American society: I'm not poor enough to get breaks but not wealthy enough not to care. For example, I make too much money in the Fall and Spring to be eligible for a break on my student loans--but not quite enough money to make it easy to pay such loans (however, going any lower would mean not paying the interest, so it actually isn't worth getting a break anyway).

In general, I save up for eye care and wait for things like semi-free clinics ($10 for flu shots!) which serves me well.

And will continue to serve me. As far as I could tell in December, if I get the cheapest (and most useless plan: see below), my health tax credits will pay for it all: $162/month.

I have decided to wait until I do my 2014 taxes (which I always do before the due date). I don't know if signing up for healthcare now will reduce my 2014 rebate or not (these days, I almost always get a rebate). Depending on what TaxAct tells me, I'll make my decision then.

By the way, to enroll in a healthcare plan, be prepared to fill out a trillion more documents: yup, just logging in is just the start! I tried going on today to finish the forms (my opinion about dental care, whether I smoke, blah, blah, blah) and . . .

It isn't working.
Consistently may be the hobgoblin of little minds but there's something almost comforting about the consistent ineffectiveness of large bureaucracies. 
December 12, 2013
My application has been submitted! I have eligibility results!

I can't view them because the screen isn't working. But I have them!!
When I consider what Amazon is doing right now with the Christmas rush--and the fact that everything I have ordered has been shipped on-time, even ahead of schedule . . .

Let's just say, I can't speak to capitalism's ethics (at least, I won't right now), but efficiency-wise, when it comes to Big Government:

The trains don't run on time.
December 5, 2013
I have been checking on my application here and there over the past month +. It is still in progress. (I can finally access the website using Firefox rather than IE.)

The website currently declares, "Enroll by Dec. 23 for coverage starting as soon as Jan. 1."

So I went to log-in.

It didn't work.

I don't mean my info was wrong. I mean, the website just kicked me back to the same log-in page (several times).

Do the people who designed the website believe what is posted ON the website? 

I have my doubts. 
October 22, 2013
I knew it! Very good article from Yahoo about the Marketplace's problems: http://news.yahoo.com/builders-obamas-health-website-saw-red-flags-070429400.html
October 17, 2013

Over the past week, the Marketplace has been down more than it has been up.

My application is still in progress.

October 8, 2013
The system has been down (or at least has admitted to being down) for 24 hours now. The current message: We're currently making system improvements. Please try again after 10:00 AM Eastern. 
I'm afraid the fire sale of Live Free or Die Hard is looking less and less of a possibility. Why do people assume that the answer to a big inefficient problem is big inefficient government? And where's Harold Finch when you need him?
I was able to get on around 11:00 a.m.; my application is still being processed. I'm not sure if this is because the system was down or if several days is typical. If each application must be individually reviewed . . . I may not know if I have coverage until March 2014! (Except that I'm supposed to have the option of signing up for whatever they offer me on January 1, 2014.)
For the sake of clarification, the cheapest insurance currently available would cost me about the same as a car payment: $240 or so a month (I would save $70 because I don't smoke). This sounds great except it comes with a $5,000 deductible. I don't pay anything even close to this amount on my doctors' appointments per year, so basically . . . my life wouldn't change. (Now, if I HAD $5,000 a year extra . . .) Even the best plan in Maine--$373/month--comes with a $650 deductible; believe it or not, I don't spend even that much per year on medical bills. In fact, if the government just GAVE me $500, I would be able to see my eye doctor, my dentist, and maybe even get a check-up! 
Catastrophic Care--which is all I really need (in case of a $50,000 trip to the hospital)--would cost me only $40/month less with a $6,000 deductible.*
To sum up, whatever I do, I will mostly be paying to keep the government off my back. Granted, this is what I did all those years when I had health insurance through my workplace (I am currently a contract worker; my employers have until 2015 to decide whether or not their contract workers qualify for healthcare.) Though that health insurance actually paid for visits to a primary care physician. And of course, all I saw back then was $30 coming out of each pay-check. Ah, the difference immediacy makes . . . !
At this point, I have no idea what the Marketplace will offer me. I have a sneaking suspicion that it won't cover anything I actually use, so I'll . . . be paying to keep the government off my back. But right now, this is a wait and see game.
*I can appreciate that without health insurance, somebody--possibly me for the rest of my life--would have to pay that $50,000 hospital bill; however, I dislike politicians trumpeting how great it is that everyone has health care--come on, what does that REALLY mean?
October 7, 2013
The system fails to recognize my password. It then fails to "find" the website. Good thing I have until March 2014! (That's about how long this will take.)
October 4, 2013
I got on about 10:30 a.m. and was able to begin the application. I was stopped by not having all the necessary information (to provide accurate information, you do need tax forms, paychecks, etc.). I have not been able to get on again since. (It is now 4:10 p.m.)
As I mentioned before, the site is quite user friendly--though there are still bugs--just not accessible. There is something downright unsettling about the government being inefficient, tedious, and long-queued even online.
What--do bureaucrats take an oath or something? Do nothing in a timely fashion!
My personal theory: politicians are highly unrealistic. They said to each other, "Well, even though we've been going on and on about all the uninsured people in America, most people get insurance from their jobs, and they won't try to apply for a cheaper option because they will realize how important it is for poor people to get insurance, so they will get insurance the ordinary way, and besides, they have until March to get this done, and you know how people put off doing their taxes, and the IRS never has these problems."
In other words, politicians forget the basic rule of self-interest and free lunch. If there's a free lunch, people will want it.
8:00 p.m., using Internet Explorer, I successfully applied (I did have to start the process over). The system went kerplunk before it could offer me eligibility options.
Interestingly enough, between this morning and this afternoon, instead of having to enter my income employer by employer, the system was able to deduce my income from my 2012 Federal Tax submission. Well, duh! I mean, why ask me about my 2012 taxes in the first place if the system couldn't make the comparison all on its own?
Live Chat is now up and running. 
Back on! At this point, the program can't decide if I have eligibility results, if my application is still in progress, or if I should be forced to start all over again with the application process. Presumably, the bugs on this part of the process will be ironed out in a couple of days.
October 2, 2013
At 7:00 a.m., my log-in was successful. I was taken to an empty User Profile page (empty as in a big, blank, white screen). 
8:00 a.m., the site is now under maintenance.  
10:00 a.m., still under maintenance. U.S. Citizens broke the Machine!  
So much for the Matrix.   
At 12 p.m., I gained access to my account. I then tried to verify my identity--which failed. At 1:00 p.m. I was able to enter my phone number after numerous tries--identity now verified. (Maybe.)
7:00 p.m.: User profile not working.
9:28 p.m.: The friendly "Please stay on this page" notice has now been up for over 2 hours. This notice usually gives way within a few minutes to the log-in page. Methinks the machine 'tis truly broken. Luddites throughout the world rejoice! (But doesn't it kind of disprove every evil-government-conspiracy movie ever?)
Live Chat is still down.
Trying to access the account: 
Unfortunately, the site wouldn't recognize my log-in name or password. I requested a "reminder," and it still hasn't arrived (it never arrived).

Out of curiosity, at 11:00, I called the Help line. My estimated wait time was less than 5 minutes. While waiting, I had to listen to blurbs about the Affordable Healthcare Act.

My call was answered! The obviously working-from-a-script answerer used my phone number to connect me to an address. She then started to give me a spiel about where I could find more information on the website.

"Woah," I said. "I don't need this. I just need to know why I can't log in even though I've created an account."

"I'm required to give you this information," she said.

I guess the script then allowed her to stop trying to give me information and just talk to me.

"There's a lot of people on the website right now," she said.

"Is that why I can't log in?" I said. "Because the little note on the bottom of the page says it's because my information isn't valid. But is the real reason because of the number of people on the site?"

"Yes," she said. "Again, I apologize--"

"It's not your fault," I said. "I just wanted to know if that was the reason."

She would have sounded relieved if she hadn't sounded so tired.

"Yes," she said and then her voice lifted ever so hopefully: "You could try tomorrow!"

I suppose that's why they hired her: the eternal optimist. 
I'll say this: The interface is much more user friendly than, say, FAFSA or anything associated with the IRS.

But then FAFSA actually works.

And, okay, I have to say this: if a for-profit business went live on the Internet with these bugs, it would lose all its customers within a few hours. There's nothing like a captive audience! (Did the creators or the bureaucrats funding the creators think the traffic wouldn't be as heavy as it is today?)

The sign-up process:
I realize that trying to access Healthcare.gov on Day 1 is pretty silly, but I figured, hey, why not?!
Around 3:00 p.m., I went onto the site using Firefox. I started the sign-up process, but the security questions part of the sign-up process was blank.

I pulled up Internet Explorer and restarted the sign-up process. A page appeared telling me  that I would be transferred to the sign-up page once things got less busy (this is the electronic equivalent of waiting for your number to be called at the DMV--in a room with a linoleum floor and Formica chairs.)

The process didn't work on Internet Explorer either (even after I updated to IE 8).

I returned to using Firefox (which I prefer). This time, I hit "Live Chat" and ended up back in a waiting room.

I requested Live Chat at 3:23. At 4:32, I received this message: "Please be patient while we're helping other people." At 8 p.m., Live Chat shut down completely: "Sorry, Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat isn't available right now. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try again later, or call our Customer Service Center at 1-800-318-2596. We look forward to helping you."

9:30 p.m. The website changed slightly, becoming a little less DMV, a little more Walt Disney: "We have a lot of visitors on the site right now, and we don't want you to lose your place in line. Please stay on this page."

10:10 p.m. After two failed attempts where Marketplace couldn't recognize my answers to their (very limited) questions, I now have an account!


Joe said...

Here's what you need to know about developers: many really are the smartest people in the room. Because our job is to solve problems, we learn to quickly deconstruct a problem and this, it seems, drives managers crazy. As odd as it sounds, as a group, managers don't like having problems deconstructed into parts--it's ugly and messy. Rather, they prefer to speak in platitudes, generalities and "the power of positive thinking."

This pollyannish view of problem solving has resulted in different methodologies, especially Agile and Scrum, which have some good points, but which still center on the idea that big problems can be broken down into nice, neat, elegant, predictable packages. The end result is a process where everyone basically lies to each other. Unfortunately, too many developers have bought into this. Some out of boredom, some because they've grown tired of fighting for what they know is right and an increasing number because they aren't the smartest in the room (one result of the absurd theory that education equals being qualified.)

To be fair, many developers just need to be cogs and do the work assigned to them by smarter developers. However, that latter group [better] understands reality and spends an inordinate amount of time arguing with pointy headed bosses over the obvious. (I've actually been in "executive" conversations where I say something like "This will take three weeks." "Can we have it by Friday." "It will take three weeks." "Okay, how about next Wednesday." I will never forget the day at Novell where, after a meeting in September when I said it would take until February to finish the software, my manager actually sat in my office and said, and I kid you not, "next meeting, can you just say it will be done in two weeks?" (By the way, I got laid off in November and the software got finished in March, but wasn't actually "shipped/used" until the next September.)

Joe said...

One other thing.

Why do "leaders", in general, but more specifically politicians, believe that merely wishing something to be makes it so? Why do liberals, in general, believe that saying something is as good as doing it? Of course this isn't exclusive to liberals; why do so many religious conservatives believe that saying they're sorry is the same as actually repenting?

I believe all of this is worse with technology, especially software. Engineering is hard work and takes time. At least with hardware, managers can touch it. They can't touch software--it's fleeting--it's amorphous--it's just a bunch of words. How hard is that? (Writers should know that feeling. How many editors think that even dry technical writing is a walk in the park? After all, it's just words.)

Kate Woodbury said...

Yeah--I don't run into the idea "it's just a bunch of words/it must be easy" as much as I used to (mostly because I'm surrounded by students who think that writing is about as much fun as dentistry--I mean, sure there's always a few who just love it!), but I used to run into it a lot more: the idea that hey, the only thing that keeps me from writing a bestseller is time! As soon as I sit down and concentrate, the muse will strike and the words will flow.

The same idea crops up with research--many students (and some instructors) think that research is easy because hey, all it takes is Googling. They fail to appreciate that finding information that is valid, useful, credible, good . . . takes time and energy (and critical thinking skills).

It all bleeds into the idea--that I still do run into--that a "thinking" job at a desk might be difficult because it involves expertise but shouldn't take up any time. You got 50+ essays yesterday; why aren't they corrected yet?

Kate Woodbury said...

I soon as I posted, I thought of something else. As you point out with time frames, Joe, there's a gap between imagination and performance. Writers--and developers--know this. But many people have to learn it. I have many, many students say to me, "I totally get what you are saying in class, but then I go to write it, and it doesn't come out right."

The ability to imagine how the policy should unwind--or the words should flow--or the website should look is something many people share. But unless they actually have to do it, they fail to appreciate that the ability to translate imagination into reality is its own skill set.

And politicians are great ones for pure imagination.

Joe said...

While reading your comments, it struck me that politicians are mostly lawyers and lawyering is one of the most cookie-cutter professions there is. With exceptions, lawyers generally just need to know how to fill out the paperwork right and put the right paragraphs in the right places. Time constraints are mostly human and really can be rectified by just hiring more people or reducing the distractions of the people you have. And they do just that--need something done, hire an intern or paralegal and order them to do it and it's done.

Anonymous said...

There is a certain percentage of the human race that wants the glory without any of the pain. No occupation better serves this need than Bureaucrat. Nothing is easier promising people all the good things they want and then blaming others when it doesn't happen. But there is an additional facet of blame that only Government Bureaucrats can exercise: Blaming people for not liking the product they have been given!

A restaurant that serves lousy meals can only blame itself when the customers stop coming. But Government can serve up a lousy product and then blame the people for not supporting it! Just one more reason for government's influence to be limited lest it be enabled to impose ever greater misery on the people it supposedly serves.

~ Dan