Signing up for ObamaCare

Signing up for ObamaCare

…how I got health insurance (for less than the GDP of a small Latin American country) last weekend

I am so tired of the endless harping and gnashing of teeth over ObamaCare. They never have stories of people who actually signed up, and what it was like, good and bad. Are you curious? Here’s my story.

I successfully signed up for an “ObamaCare” policy last weekend. I am thrilled. I started my quest literally two minutes after it opened on October 1st at midnight. I had good reason for my interest – both my husband and I have had cancer (thankfully, we’re both healthy now), rendering us total pariahs to the insurance industry. As many of you know, Scott and I retired early but were still able to keep our coverage while in Massachusetts. But, when we moved to Arizona five years ago, we were unable to purchase health insurance because of our “pre-existing conditions”. We almost cancelled our move because of this – the availability of healthcare is literally a matter of life and death. We eventually managed to find a no-pre-existing-conditions small business policy that cost $12,000/year in premiums and had a $10,000 deductible before any benefits (that’s $22,000 out of pocket before coverage). Health insurance was by far the largest item in our budget. To put this in perspective, the US “poverty line” for two people is $15,510. Couples live on thousands of dollars less than we were paying for healthcare alone.

Costs continue to escalate. What now?

In about 2007, with insurance costs going up at 10-20%/year, we weren’t sure we would be able to retain healthcare until we became eligible for Medicare at age 65. As seasonal visitors to Canada and admirers of the BC Medical Services Plan (and with our many friends there singing its praises), we “hedged our bets” by becoming Permanent Residents of Canada (think “green card”). It is pretty sad though when you feel you might need to move to another country to be able to obtain basic healthcare. (Premium costs in Canada are about $70/month for one person, by the way).

After 2011, we finally “timed out” of our cancer insurance penalty, and were able to purchase less expensive individual policies (that vet you to make sure you are healthy before accepting you).  People complain about “privacy” these days – but to sign up for one of these individual policies, you have to list every doctor visit, every prescription, every diagnosis, and every symptom you have had for the last 10+ years. If you forget one, they can cancel your policy (which they don’t bother to do until you make a big claim). It took days to fill in the application – only to get rejected because a med I take for my chemotherapy-triggered hot flashes labeled me as “having depression” and thus ineligible (I assure you I’m quite cheery, actually). It’s hard to do cost-comparisons when it takes days to fill in one company’s application. We eventually were able to get insurance at a reasonable cost – about $600/month for the two of us – but it was with a $10,000 deductible, excluded a lot of conditions, and limited coverage to $1 million.

First try… not encouraging

Given this, you can imagine the ability to apply for insurance on the ACA website without a single question about my health history was a great joy. I created an account two minutes after the site went live, and actually got most of the way through the application. But when I went back over the next couple of weeks to finish up, the site was totally bogged down, and very buggy. I counted 18 unique error messages (you can see them here). It was obvious that the component pieces had never really been tested together (so called “integration testing”).

Second try… triumph!

So, I waited until mid-November to try again. The site is now much faster – speed really isn’t an issue at all. It’s still a bit fragile though – if you go off the mainstream path through the site, it will likely end in grief. The site design is actually quite good — it is just that it was born several months premature.

I filled in the relatively small set of information the site requires in order to sign up (what a change from entering my entire medical history!) And up popped a list of 39 different health care plans I was eligible for, no further questions! Some of the prices were higher than my current plan, but the coverage was better, and the deductibles and out-of-pocket max were much lower. I was thrilled.

However, as early retirees, our income is not all that high (we are living off savings and interest until we turn 65), and it told me I was eligible for a subsidy! So, now the price is less (though not a lot) than my previous plan, and the benefits are much better.

So, why am I telling you all this? Most people are covered at work or with Medicare, and have at most minor insurance hassles. They have no idea how brutal and expensive and demeaning it has become to acquire a policy in the individual health care market in the last 15 years. We were fortunate – we knew how to research and fight for our health care, we had a “small business” that gave us a way to buy a policy when all other avenues were closed, and we had enough money we could pay the exorbitant fees. Not many people have all these advantages. Did you know that medical expenses are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the US?

Since our retirement in 2001 we travel the world (very inexpensively!). The travelers we meet from other Western countries are uniformly shocked, appalled, and disbelieving at the US healthcare system – to them, it is as heartless and incomprehensible as if we made six year olds work in factories if their parents couldn’t afford to send them to school.

Well worth the effort

Get some perspective, folks! The ability to get affordable health care even with pre-existing conditions is a godsend for people without employer-provided healthcare. A sucky, slow, buggy website is such a trivial obstacle if for something that will potentially save your life and keep you from bankruptcy. I would sit all day in 100 degree, 100% humidity jungle with thousands of attacking mosquitos, on a chair that gave me electric zaps every 30 seconds, if that is what it took to get insurance through the ACA website. And, by the way, my new insurance provider is Blue Cross/Blue Shield, not the federal government, for those of you are confused about how this all works. The website is just a comparison shopping marketplace for private insurers, like Expedia is for airline companies or lendingtree is loan providers.

Please share this with your friends who are skeptical of the benefits of Obamacare. If you know anyone who doesn’t have health insurance, encourage them to sign up. They’ll be able to afford it.  And it could save their life (and their assets). Copy this link to share it with friends.


– Kathy

A few practical “how to” hints for using website

  • Use Internet Explorer. I never got it working at all with Chrome, and I had problems with FireFox.
  • If you end up in never-never land on the website, unable to make progress with your application, simply start all over again with a new account with a new username and password.
  • If the website is misbehaving, try deleting your browser cache and cookies. There are instructions on the website for how to do this. This is especially important if you are starting over with a new account.
  •  Much of the information about policies in your area is available from places other than the ACA website; in fact, you can get an ACA-compliant policy without going to the ACA website at all. The only thing that you need the .gov website for is to qualify for and receive a subsidy.

Some other useful websites:

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