Note From Wiley Long: As part of our ongoing effort to keep you informed about health care reform and how you are going to be impacted by it, I thought it would be a good idea if one of our Personal Advisors logged in to the federal Health Insurance Marketplace to get a first-hand account of how it worked. Hopefully this would put us in a better position to help clients navigate the exchange and discuss the different aspects of the process.
What follows is the first-hand account of our sales manager, Fred Adams, as he tried to first obtain a quote and then receive health exchange information about a particular state.
At First It Was Simply Inconvenient…
After unsuccessfully trying to log in using what I made sure was the correct information, I decided to call the federal marketplace directly to see if they could help me. The recording I got to begin with stated that an agent would be with me shortly, and then what I believe strongly to have been a customer service representative (not an agent) answered the phone.
Initially I was given the runaround, which included being told that I was simply doing it incorrectly. Finally, the person with whom I was speaking admitted that he could not help me, as their entire website was down.
And Then It Got Laughable…
Since I had him on the telephone, I decided to simply ask him what my options for coverage in Georgia are. At that point, I was told that I was not limited to where I could purchase a plan. For example, he told me that if I was a truck driver and traveled all over the United States, I could choose a plan in basically any state.
I told him that although I am not a truck driver, I do travel extensively and sleep in hotels about a quarter of the year overall. Therefore, my question was, “Which zip code do I use to purchase a plan, since you are unable to give me information about plans in Georgia?”
He put me on hold, and when he came back I was told that, no, I could only purchase a plan in my home state, but that I needed to be sure that the plan I chose had providers in other states so I could be sure to have coverage when I traveled.
This representative also tried to tell me that Georgia was handled differently because they have their own state-run health exchange, as opposed to the federally operated Health Insurance Marketplace. As a last resort, since he clearly was unable to help me, he suggested that I call the number listed at Healthcare.gov. When I asked him who I had called, he replied, “the Marketplace.” Believe it or not, the number he suggested I call was the same number I called in the first place.
And Downright Ridiculous!
I ended the phone call shaking my head at the absurdity of it all. I tried to obtain a quote for a health insurance plan that I am legally required to have, and was unable to access the website. When I called the number provided for assistance, the person on the phone could not help me either, and referred me to a help line that was the number I had already called. It was one of those scenarios where I just had to laugh.
But It Really Isn’t Funny…
However, despite the ridiculous conversation and the complete lack of information or help I received, this really is not funny at all. There are several reasons why I am more than a little alarmed by the whole encounter.
The Health Insurance Marketplace opened on October 1, yet on October 2 I was still unable to access their website. It would seem to me that the sensible thing to do before opening the federal marketplace would be to make sure that the websites were fully functioning and capable of handling a large influx of visitors.
The media have hyped up the opening of the exchange to the point that many people are all but panicked and feel they must purchase a policy before the Health Insurance Police start arresting people (an exaggeration, but you get my drift). Surely there were ways they could have tested the system prior to the day open enrollment was set to begin.
That said, although this was inconvenient and rather comical, the inability to access the marketplace online was the least of my concerns. The true issues for me began when I got that recording that stated an agent would be with me shortly.
It is Actually Disturbing!
As we have detailed in other blog posts, the person who answered the phone was not an agent by any means. He was possibly an ‘insurance navigator,’ but it seemed more likely that he was simply a customer service representative. Talk about misleading!
This person did not even have the training that the navigators are supposed to have! Instead, he had a very well-written script to follow, and any time I asked a question that deviated from the script, he floundered. Not only did he flounder, but he gave absolutely incorrect information.
This is exactly what I was worried about when talk of insurance navigators running the health exchanges started being hyped up. These people who are supposedly qualified to help you make insurance decisions have minimal training, and clearly do not have any real idea what they are doing. They are providing not just inaccurate but completely incorrect information.
For example, Georgia is, in fact, run by the federal government, and does not have its own exchange. Also, you have to purchase a policy in the state of your residence, regardless of how much time you spend away from home (which he eventually figured out, but not every consumer will keep questioning their representative until he finally gets his facts straight!).
In recent webinars, I have talked about the importance of making your health insurance decisions with the help of a licensed, experienced insurance professional. My experience with the federal marketplace certainly solidifies that belief.
Licensed agents and brokers must undergo extensive studying and testing in order to be allowed to sell insurance. In addition, we have also had to undergo hundreds of hours of training to help make sense of all the ins and outs of the Affordable Care Act.
Ask for Expert Advice
Our job as Personal Advisors has always been, and will continue to be, to help health care consumers receive accurate information regarding health insurance, whether they are our clients or not. We are all committed to helping you make wise, informed decisions. When you call or log onto the marketplace, you are simply being read a script and are expected to make a decision based on that script—even if the information you are provided is wrong.
Millions of people will be making a health insurance purchase using either the federal marketplace or a state-run health exchange, but you have a responsibility to yourself to be as informed as possible before making any decision.
For this reason, we offer the help and guidance of our Personal Advisors at no cost or obligation to you. Simply call us at 866-749-2039 and allow us to answer any questions you have. We can provide all of the information you need regarding health insurance, whether you are purchasing on or off the exchanges.
From agent to V.P. of Business Development, Fred Adams has filled most every role imaginable during 21 years working with health insurance. When Congress passed the 2003 law on health savings accounts, Fred was dubbed “The HSA Expert” by press and a growing, fanatical client base.