Reflections of the first day of the federal insurance exchange enrollment

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October 2, 2013 by Tony Novak

I’m glad it’s over and I hope it gets better from here. Yesterday was perhaps the most challenging I’ve had in almost 30 years of providing consumer advice about health insurance.

The primary complaint I heard was that the exchange requires the user to provide personal information before seeing what products are available and getting a quote. In contrast, the reputable private insurance exchanges of the past avoided this practice. Those that did made a habit of hounding consumers for the sale by telephone and email. Some firms, like my Freedom Benefits even adopted a policy of refusing to do business with any company that did not offer a quote without requiring personal information. But now all that is changed and pre-registration with the sales Web site is a requirement. It is understandable that consumers would be wary of entering their personal information prior to agreeing to purchase insurance. Some suspect that the government will use this to match up those who did not purchase coverage by 2014. While we know of no intention to do this, it certainly would be technically possible.

Other complaints could be lumped into a single category termed “irrational”. News media coverage of the exchange opening likely brought some people of these out of the woodwork. One caller seemed to have an emotional breakdown right on the phone because she did not have access to an Internet connection and hung up. Another wrote that he was homeless and needed insurance to have a transplant next week. There seems to be confusion about when coverage starts (January 1), what coverage is offered (not dental) and who is eligible (not Medicare recipients).

Reporters seemed to struggle with their coverage and at least one newspaper reported errant information. By the end of the day, I felt stressed even though I am only providing free support without any professional obligation. I presume that it must get better from here.

National news syndicates reported that some users had trouble accessing the online insurance quote and enrollment system. I did not receive any reports of this. Also, I still have no report on when the insurance exchange system, complete with reliable real-time subsidy calculations, will debut on private insurance exchanges.

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