Sometimes life imitates work.

Last year, I wrote about a massive effort to nudge procrastinators into signing up for a health insurance plan sold on the public exchanges before it was too late. Then, I waited until the last minute to enroll for my own coverage as a self-employed individual who qualified for federal subsidies.

This year, I re-enrolled long before the deadline, right around the time I wrote a story in which consumer advocates cautioned South Carolina residents not to automatically re-enroll in the same plan without studying all their options.

Aside from the availabilty of new carrier options, another concern raised was that advance premium tax credits aren’t automatically recalculated for any change of income, which could result in the loss of valuable premium-assistance dollars or a messy need to later refund a portion of subsidies.

This last point is what complicated my re-enrollment in Covered California and served as a reminder that HIX 2.0 still has its share of technical glitches — the subject of yet another one of my recent stories about the nascent online marketplace.

Before re-enrolling, I consulted my broker, who recommended that I at least report a change in income if I anticipated any for the coming year, rather than simply rubber stamp my previous selection. His instructions were as follows:

  • Click the edit button in “household income” row.
  • Click on edit button for type of income you want to add or change. 
  • Click on “add income” to well, add income. Edit and delete are options for income already entered.
  • Click continue until you get to the end page to enter in the reasons for changing income. If the reason doesn’t make sense from the available options, choose “other” if that’s there.
  • Be sure to “sign” and check all the little agreement boxes in order to complete the change request.

I tried pointing and clicking my way through this task for about a week or two before giving up in frustration (the field of info to update income was grayed out). My first few phone calls to Covered California had estimated wait times of up to two hours, but I kept calling and finally got a customer service rep on the line after only about a 15-minute wait.
The person I chatted with explained that I first had to re-enroll before revising my estimated income. He then walked me through the process over the phone, which turned out to have many more moving parts than the bulleted items above. I felt humility and could personally relate to a common conclusion of numerous stories I’ve written through the years, which is that pollsters keep discovering that enrolling in a health insurance plan isn’t easy.

It was a huge relief to finally get through the re-enrollment. But then, about a month later, I received a letter from my health plan mentioning a discrepancy between the latest monthly premium payment from my automatic bill-pay arrangement and the new amount I was quoted for 2015 upon re-enrollment.

So, I called my health plan and spoke to someone who was prepared to e-mail the finance department about the two different figures. He also suggested I call Covered California to clear up any confusion, which I did, but the person I spoke with referred me back to the health plan. Talk about getting the runaround! I decided to wait a few days before calling my health plan again, figuring it could take some time before the promised e-mail will be sent, read and possibly reflected in any notes pertaining to my file.

In hindsight, pointing and clicking through enrollment on a public exchange may be the equivalent of death by a thousand cuts to some folks. In my case, however, it’s a price I had to pay for dirt-cheap coverage relative to what I was quoted in the individual market off the exchanges.

Guest blogger Bruce Shutan is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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