Obamacare has enmeshed many Americans in a bureaucratic nightmare. True, the law has helped some uninsured people obtain coverage. But millions of people have seen their health-insurance plans canceled, because the plans did not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Others, particularly young Americans, have seen premiums rise to pay for the roster of newly added benefits.
Tommy Groves (not his real name), a young professional working at a small firm in Washington, D.C., was among the nearly 5 million Americans who received termination-of-coverage letters from their health-insurance providers because their plans did not comply with the ACA’s requirements. While about half the states offered to extend canceled plans for another year, later increased to two years, the District of Columbia required its residents to get new insurance.
Tommy had no choice but to grudgingly visit D.C. Health Link and attempt to sign up for an insurance plan on the ACA exchange. He did not get very far. Besides the embarrassing computer difficulties that became infamous on the state and federal exchanges, massive technological problems with “back-end functionality” also plagued the site. D.C. Health Link was unable to verify Tommy’s identity, and after hours of back-and-forth on the phone with an ACA help center, he was told to send in a paper application.
After many phone calls and countless hours on hold over a period of weeks, and despite multiple assurances to the contrary, Tommy was informed that his paper application had been lost. Finally he was directed to a place where he could sign up in person.
This attempt, too, did not succeed, as the “navigators” there had been instructed not to accept paper applications any longer. After he had spent hours more on the phone with D.C. Health Link over several additional weeks, the online system was finally able to verify his identity, and he met the deadline for purchasing health insurance. “I don’t want other people who are thrown off their employer’s health insurance to go through what I did,” Tommy told us.
“It was miserable and a complete waste of my time. Nobody listens to you. Nobody takes responsibility. The only advice I give people who are going to be stuck dealing with the health-care exchanges is, ‘Get ready for the bureaucracy.’”
Tommy’s premium for his “silver plan” went up to $225 a month from his $175 pre-ACA rate. Both plans cover the health-care services he wants, but his new plan includes services that he does not need, such as maternity care, pediatric dental care, mental-health coverage, and substance-abuse treatment. His deductible increased from $1,400 to $1,500 for in-network coverage, and from $2,800 to $3,000 for out-of-network coverage. Tommy is now paying more for coverage that is less valuable to him, and all after he was forced to spend dozens of hours on the phone.