October 8, 2014 by Tony Novak
I receive an email today that said “Can you send me a list of doctors that accept cobra insurance please or call me”. That’s all. No name, no contact information. After answering consumer health insurance questions online for almost 20 years, I’ve received all kinds of bizarre questions, so this one comes as no surprise. Since the launch of the Affordable Care Act all of my free health insurance advisory service to consumers has been provided through the web site OnlineNavigator.org. But in this case the question came through an older route from COBRAplan.com.
As a rule, I don’t respond to these emails if there is no name. The sites that offer our advisory service plainly state that it is necessary to provide your name and location – at least your state – in order for an adviser to answer the most basic health insurance questions. While federal law seems to grab most of the headlines, state law still controls the details of the specific details where consumers need the most help.
This email caught my attention because it reminds me how little some understand about the federal health insurance program we refer to as “COBRA”. Consumer use of the term “COBRA insurance” is disturbing in its own way since it typically implies a lack of understanding of essential elements of the topic that is presumably important to that individual’s health and financial welfare. I estimate that I’ve written some variation of the explanation “‘COBRA insurance’ refers to the insurance you already have” in hundreds of messages over the years. The common misperception is that COBRA refers to something that is new or different from what was already in place. In a question like this I might add the suggestion that the network providers that were available before COBRA continue to be available.
The essential information about COBRA and other health insurance programs is certainly widely available to anyone who uses the internet. Of course we can’t mandate that people read and I recognize that there is a portion of the public that can’t or won’t utilize commonly available information and resources. Yet I continue to be puzzled by a consumer who apparently has the reading/writing and technical skills to search and find me online and then ask a question using email or an online form yet doesn’t seem to have the ability or willingness to read and comprehend the basic information printed on the web page that he/she used to write that request. Perhaps it shouldn’t, but it bothers me that I can’t help.
The best I can do is remind myself of the serenity prayer “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”. Clearly today’s email brings me into the realm of what I can not change.