Impressions of Obamacare

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.

10 thoughts on “Impressions of Obamacare”

  1. Just for fun, I went to my state’s exchange website and went through the motions of signing up. The actual process and website wasn’t bad, BUT the choices were. There were no “platinum” plans offered in my area, and the best “gold” plan was super expensive AND didn’t even come close to comparing with the healthcare plan offered by my employer. While that’s not necessarily Obamacare’s fault it was shocking to see how much health care would cost if I had to pay for it all on my own.

  2. The goal of having everyone insured is a worthy one, however they are too many hurdles to go through to reach the outcome. It is still too early in the process to see how it will work long term. I had an appointment with a new doctor and they want to pre-qualify me before I set the appointment.

  3. From my experience, you guys just completed the first step. In a few weeks there will be a letter saying that your family member was accepted and then you can actually apply. I went through the whole application process by phone and was really disappointed as my canceled plan was much better (in money and coverage), but I thought I had to have coverage. Then, I heard of other options and was upset that I was stuck with ACA. Then, the letter came that I was approved and now I could really sign-up or something. It’s hard to remember the verbiage as this was a process that went from October through January. I chose not to actually sign-up and went a different route.

  4. Anecdotes from CA: I didn’t have to do it for myself but my aunts/uncles/dad went to a place that actually offered help going through it all with them which functioned a little bit like a CPA, honestly, going through all their income paperwork and inputting the information to get what appeared to be the right choices for them. They were all satisfied with the results.

    I’ve also heard back from peers who did personally go through the exchange and had a heck of a time getting the sites to work, but in the end they got a much better price than they were expecting so they were happy they went through the pain to get decent, affordable coverage (from their POV).

  5. I had a relative sign up to get health care insurance. The sign-up process was fairly straightforward, but the plans offered were high for her budget. When she called she found out that she hadn’t entered the correct data to reflect her income.

    • That’s pretty confusing. I didn’t really realize that there were that drastic of differences based on pricing. Seems more and more complexities make it wrought for more frustration.

  6. I happened to be working in healthcare at the time the exchange was being put together, and I can offer a little insight into how these plans may have come together.

    In WA, the insurance companies had to petition to be on the exchange and provide a sample plan with sample pricing. Once accepted, people with decision making authority had to attend regular meetings with the state, and the group refined what should be offered in which level of plans AND what the price points should be. (Okay, a lot of this was the state saying you need to include x and it can’t cost over y.)

    That means that in WA, what you’re really deciding is what level of plan you want and the provider you want. But the plans at each level are incredibly comparable. I went in knowing I wanted to stay with my same insurance provider of the previous 9 years, and was able to do so.

    BUT, not everyone is lucky enough to live in WA, or a state that was as proactive about getting the exchange and the exchange website set up. These were state responsibilities, and some states decided to opt out of them all together, while others participated with varying levels of competence. (And the national exchange set up to cover people in the states that opted out of creating their own also have varying levels of competence.)

    What it really means is that it’s really hard to share stories and pass judgments across state lines here. My WA experience was straightforward and simple. One state to the south, though, in OR, they had such massive problems with their state run exchange site that they finally had to write it off and have residents use the federal site.

    • Good point, so the national health care system is really not so much national. I know that our legislature blocked creating a state run exchange, so I’m pretty sure these were the federal plans as well.

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