The Obamacare exchanges: 5 opening-day tales

Bankrate asked five writers around the country to go for an opening-day test-drive on the new Obamacare exchanges, the online health insurance marketplaces where consumers can shop for plans and learn about their eligibility for federal tax credits that will cut the monthly premiums. It was a bumpy ride for most, as the federal exchange website and state-operated marketplaces appeared to be overwhelmed. On its Twitter feed, promised that, "We're working to fix these issues as soon as possible" and said the site had received 1 million visitors in one day -- five times more than had ever visited in a similar span. Consumers have until Dec. 15 to sign up for a plan taking effect on Jan. 1.

Delay message on
Delay message on

Jay MacDonaldA foggy start in Florida

By Jay MacDonald

Unless you arose before sunrise Tuesday, your shopping experience on the opening day of the new Florida health insurance marketplace can be summed up in four words: "please wait" and "system down."

Florida residents were left staring at those sequential screen messages over and over for hours after the state's health exchange on the federal website crashed at sunrise and remained that way all morning. Even the call center was overwhelmed.

'The System is down' message on
"The System is down" message on

So much for predictions of a lack of public interest in the new coverage.

Early risers, such as me and my cross-state cohort Richard Palmer, who teaches health policy at Florida International University in Miami, were able to sneak on before the pileup. Unfortunately, we were both tossed off without warning during the identity verification process and never reached the insurance plan pages.

"I got to the point where I was able to sign up. And when they asked me to fill in my security phrases -- such as your mother's maiden name or something -- it just didn't populate. So I put in some responses regardless, and it said, 'Sorry, the system is down,'" Palmer says.

The same thing happened to me.

I hope to find a cheaper marketplace alternative to the high-deductible health savings account I've had for years. I've never come anywhere close to reaching my HSA's five-figure deductible, and, since I'm well past "young invincible" age, I figure it wouldn't hurt to have coverage I might actually use one day.

But today was not to be the day.

Still, as a cheerful phone rep reassured me, there's plenty of time left to shop this fall. Consumers who need coverage beginning on Jan. 1, 2014, have until Dec. 15 to peruse their state offerings. Open enrollment for metallic (as in bronze, silver, gold and platinum levels) and catastrophic marketplace plans continues through next March.

Sheryl Nance-Nash'Affordable' care in NY? Fuhgeddaboudit!

By Sheryl Nance-Nash

My husband is older than 65 and ready to retire. One thing stands between him and that dream: our need for his employer-sponsored health care. I am a freelancer and depend on his coverage. So does our young-adult daughter.

With much anticipation, I went on the New York State of Health, or NYSOH, website, the state's Obamacare marketplace.

I plugged in my best guess for what our household income would be with my income and my husband's pension. I went for the "gold" level, since we need comprehensive care. Those plans in my county ranged from $645-$1,264, and most were about $800 -- just for my daughter and me.

Error message on New York State exchange site
Error message on New York State exchange site

If he retired, my husband could receive Medicare. But because it doesn't cover everything, we would need to devote additional health care dollars to him, pushing our monthly health care tab to at least $1,000.

I was a bit ticked about all the hype. What's so affordable about the Affordable Care Act? "It's (about) people without affordable employer group coverage whose household income is between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, who will get subsidies and therefore pay the lowest monthly amount," says Daniel Colacino, vice president of Rose and Kiernan, an insurance agency.

In my frustration, I sought further help. Colacino connected me with Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president of health initiatives with the Community Service Society of New York, which is serving as a statewide Obamacare "navigator," or helper.

She assured me, "Everyone will benefit from bulk purchasing. The more people, the lower the prices." Well, right now, it's not low enough for my family.

Sorry, honey, you're gonna have to keep on working.

P.S. Glad I did my "shopping" a week before the official Oct. 1 launch. I logged on several times Tuesday morning and got an error message. I tried again later and nothing, period. Will I keep trying? No thanks.


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