HealthCare.gov: It almost worked

Ever since HealthCare.gov launched all I’ve been hearing about is how horrible the experience is. It never affected me directly, so I chalked it to a few vocal detractors trying to sway public opinion. I even went so far as to go to HealthCare.gov and use the logged-out experience to compare some plans. It looked pretty good actually, and I tweeted as such.

HealthCar.gov Tweet

That was all about to change though. I recently made the move to work at a small startup that doesn’t yet have an employer-sponsored health plan. They do however offer a stipend of sorts to help you pay for insurance costs on HealthCare.gov. And with that, my journey began.

Initial Sign Up

After discussing the healthcare situation with my wife, I ran the numbers and decided that it would be best for her to use her employer-sponsored healthcare and for me to use the exchange separately. At this point everything went as well as it could. Even though the UX on HealthCare.gov is pretty bad, I was able to figure out how to fill out an application, select health coverage, select dental coverage, and get things rolling. This all happened before December 23rd, which means I’d be getting coverage by January 1st! All was well… until I had to make a change.

The Change

As it turns out, I math’d wrong. When I was calculating the cost of healthcare for my wife at her job, I was off by something like $200 per month, which pushed her healthcare costs well into the “unreasonable for what I’m going to receive” range. With that in mind, I thought I could make a quick change on HealthCare.gov to get her on the same plan that I was. Boy was I wrong.

The process I had to take to get both my wife and myself health and dental insurance was ridiculous, and still hasn’t worked correctly. To add my wife to my plan, I had to delete the entire thing. Not only that, but I needed to delete my entire application and start over from scratch. Once I did that, I kept constantly running into javascript errors in their application which would force me to re-authenticate.

After finally getting through the application process, I get to the last step where I need to confirm. I press the button and… nothing. Not a goddamn thing. Being a software engineer, I do a little investigating and find out that the server is returning 500 errors to the client (in non-developer speak, this means that the server couldn’t process my request because of some error on their side). The error that is returned says that I should try to log-out, then resume the application. I do this, but when I try to resume my application I get:

Thats right, my application is locked. It doesn’t give any reason, which is especially confusing considering that I was asked to re-authenticate. But there is a little link that can “explain this task”, so I click it, and it naturally didn’t work.

At this point, I was beginning to realize that I would need to contact their support to get things resolved.

Support and Next Steps

The first time I tried to use support, I clicked the helpful little “Live Chat” button. I then proceeded to wait for 25 minutes with no response. This was over the holidays, so I gave it another try after Christmas. This time I was connected to somebody, but no matter what question I asked I was given a canned response to contact the call center. My question is: Why have the “Live Chat” at all if you’re just going to tell me to contact the call center? It’s ridiculous and a waste of my time.

After my initial experience with HealthCare.gov, I’m not really excited to contact the call center. I honestly don’t have a ton of time to do it, and given the number of people that will be signing up for healthcare I’m sure the wait will be long. My likely next steps will be to cancel what remains of my application and start over. If it doesn’t work this time, then I’m going to cancel that application and contact my insurance provider of choice directly. In my case thats Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, which happens to have a walk-in office about a block from where I work.

I create things all the time on the web. Its my chosen profession, so I know how hard it can be to make a good website when you need to integrate with a lot of different 3rd parties. However this sort of experience isn’t going to cut it. If I’m federally mandated to have health insurance, then the experience should be as painless as possible.

Because the system is broke I won’t have health coverage until February 1st now; a month long gap in coverage for my family. This just isn’t acceptable.

Author: Jack Slingerland

I'm a software engineer working and living in Raleigh, NC. I work in Python, Django, Node.js, React+Flux, AngularJS, and PHP. I like to work out with Kettlebells, run, and spend my free time with my wife, cat, and dog.

8 thoughts on “HealthCare.gov: It almost worked”

  1. As a developer, I don’t view the real problem with Healthcare.gov as being technical. Whether it takes 6 months or 2+ years, these problems will eventually mostly get fixed (more than likely after politically connected contractors rake up hundreds of millions of additional costs). The problem with this healthcare system is that it forces you to purchase a product that you might not want in a package you might not want. This attempt to fix healthcare by force isn’t going to work. I think there’s still a fairly large segment of the population that believes in the fairytale of government being able to contravene economic law if their intentions are good enough and the rest of us have to suffer through this. No offense intended, but this was seen from day 1. The errors on the website are just distracting society from a talk about the root problems with it.

    1. If you can find a way to remove yourself from the health care system (as in opt-out of any EMS runs, emergency room visits, etc), then you can bitch about government forcing you to do something you don’t want to do. Too many people think this is about government imposing something ON them when in fact it government imposing something OFF everyone else who has health insurance and doesn’t feel the need to eat the costs in higher premiums for people who choose to go without insurance.

  2. You may just want to buy directly from the health insurance company. Spoke with a broker who said the only reason to buy through the exchange (in NY or NJ) is if you’re getting a subsidy. Buying through the exchange locks you in for the year; buying from the HI company directly doesn’t.

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