Have Obamacare exchanges improved? 5 answers

Marcie GeffnerHealth care hopes dashed in California

By Marcie Geffner

THEN Good. Bad. Surprising. Confusing. That sums up my first encounter with Covered California, the health insurance exchange now open in the Golden State, where I live. -- Marcie Geffner, on Oct. 1, 2013.

NOW: Two months ago, I thought choosing a new health insurance plan to replace my canceled individual policy would be simple. Now I know better.

At that time, the Covered California exchange seemed to work. It was easy to access, and I was able to find out which plans were available, how much the monthly premiums were and what coverage was provided. But now, some of the new plans that I could see then are no longer displayed, and there's no clue as to why they're gone.

The president announced in November that insurance companies could let people like me keep our plans that had been canceled, but California decided not to go along. I'm peeved and disappointed.

Meanwhile, the exchange admitted to the Los Angeles Times that it gave some users' names, email addresses and telephone numbers to insurance agents without permission. That might be legal, but it's wrong, especially in a state where privacy is prized. I no longer trust the exchange.

The new policies have lower deductibles, but higher premiums and maximum out-of-pockets. It's maddeningly difficult to find out which doctors and hospitals are in which networks because the search functions are slow and cumbersome, and no one seems to know whether they're accurate.

On Dec. 9, I received a letter from a prestigious local hospital, saying it accepts the new plans of only three insurers. After two and a half hours of research, I realized it's impossible to compare those plans with my existing one. There are too many moving parts: premiums, deductibles, copays, out-of-pockets, provider networks, drug formularies -- the list goes on.

My biggest frustration is that I can't compare providers' negotiated rates. One insurer told me I had to find out the billing codes for medical procedures to compare how much I'd actually pay. That's laughable.

Lesson learned: Don't get sick.

Stacy LipsonFor 20-something, chat falls flat

By Stacy Lipson

THEN After spending over an hour on the website, I logged off, and moved onto the next project on my to-do list. I can only hope that the bugs and glitches will be fixed the next time I attempt to log on.
-- Stacy Lipson, on Oct. 1, 2013.

NOW: Back in October, I started researching rates for an Illinois bronze plan for myself. I ended up finding a plan with high out-of-pocket costs, including the deductible, which is typical of bronze plans. They offer the lowest level of coverage, typically picking up about 60 percent of health care costs. At the other end of the spectrum, a platinum plan covers 90 percent, on average.

Chat with someone who can help chat

But I had struggled with in October and expected that by December most of the problems would be resolved. I may have been too optimistic.

I decided to use the site's live chat feature this time. I explained to the live chat operator about my initial difficult attempts to fill out an application, and asked him to advise me on choosing a plan based on the information I had already submitted.

Operator: You will need to fill out an application.
Me: I have filled out an application.

While in the live chat, I found I was unable to log in to my account, and asked the operator for assistance. He asked when I had been able to log in previously.

Me: On Oct. 1, the day the exchange opened.
Operator: This is what you will need to do, then. You will need to create a new account with a NEW user name you haven't used before.

Start all over and create a new account? I realized that there was no quick fix in order to obtain access to the Affordable Care Act online marketplace. And I wondered about the old account that I created, and whether the personal information that I had provided was secure.

I'm not sure if I'll keep trying. Since I am currently under 30, I will be examining other options such as a high-deductible "catastrophic" plan available to people in my age group under the health care law, or health insurance that I could purchase from a trade association.


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