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I recently had the opportunity to work through signing up for Obamacare, though it was not for me.  A family member recently took on a new position, and since their employer does not offer health insurance, she needed to sign up for insurance using Obamacare.  She asked for my help.

I won't walk step by step through the process, since there are already a million articles out there about that, but wanted to share some of our shared impressions.

  • It's pretty cleanly designed – I was pretty impressed by the user interface.  It was colorful and simple enough to be welcoming, but not distracting.  It also split much of the form entry into multiple pages so as not to be overwhelming.
  • There's a lot to enter – Most of the information you need is pretty straightforward but there is a lot more information than you probably think going in.  We had estimated it'd probably take around an hour but in reality, it took closer to two hours.
  • Figuring out income is tricky – Many people likely know how much they make, but if you are hourly, or if you aren't really sure, you're likely taking a guess.  In our case, we struggled because of the hourly component, and also didn't really the implications of only being at this job for part of the year, which will greatly affect the total income that will go on the tax return.
  • All of the options lead to second-guessing – We had a rough idea of the needs, and also had a rough idea of the expected costs, but when we got to the lists, it was quite a bit to take in.  The variation in pricing and such made it pretty confusing, and you found yourself just scrolling through.  Also, when you found what appeared to have the same offerings, but for price variations of up to 100%, it made you start second-guessing whether you were really making the right choice.
  • The providers have some work to do – When we found the plan we wanted, it gave a link so that it could be paid to ensure that coverage started on the 1st of the month.  The only problem is that the link didn't work.  It likely went out to the providers site for payment, so there is some problem somewhere along the way.   We also noticed during the sign up process that the details about each plan took you to the website of the provider, which was fine, but that led to confusion as each provider structured their information to their own design.  Since you're comparing multiple plans along multiple providers, I think that providers should be encouraged to put the information together in a more common template format.
  • Some stuff needs to be re-arranged – We needed to sign up for health and dental.  It wasn't really clear whether they are done completely independent (they are) or not, so before we submitted ‘OK' on the health side, we were nervous that we were locking out of the dental options (we weren't).  I think this could be solved by having the participant select the coverage that they need up front before signing up for anything, and the system could build your sign-up plan accordingly, making sure that you go directly to dental sign-up.

Overall, it wasn't a horrible experience but it wasn't great.  I'd say it was OK, though we were expecting worse.  The biggest takeaway is that health insurance is still full of a lot of unknowns, and that can lead to nervousness and such.  I can see where they tried to take a lot of that out away with their design, but some additional re-work could make even more improvements.   We finished up and I could tell that my family member was nervous.  Taking away that ‘What did I just do?' element is something that could help consumers a long way.

Readers, have you or someone you know signed up for Obamacare?  What was the experience and what suggestions would you make?  Note: This isn't a place to debate whether Obamacare should be in place or not.  It's here and the purpose of this article was to discuss our experiences with that framework in place.  I'd appreciate if discussions could be handled along the same lines.  Thanks.