IT manager, 36
Ours is the quintessential traditional nuclear family, married for 13 years with four children and one on the way. I am a salaried IT manager for a small company, making a little more than $50,000 annually and am the sole breadwinner for the family.
For years, my wife and I have gone without health insurance (save CHIP for the kids) because the plan offered to us by my employer was ridiculously overpriced: $5,000 premium, with another $2,000 deductible before anything really kicked in, then 30 to 50 percent coinsurance with a lifetime maximum of $1,000,000. Individual plans availed us nothing: My wife is uninsurable due to asthma. When the ACA was signed into law, we actually did shed some tears of joy. It’s not the single-payer plan we had hoped for, but it is better than nothing. We’ve waited four long years for this day.
Living in the West, I took advantage of the time-zone difference and tried to sign up at 11:00 p.m., thereby hopefully beating the rush. My plan failed; it now occurs to me that I am part of a large network of people perpetrating a denial-of-service attack on government computers. (We’re all going to jail for a very long time.)
Thankfully, the companies participating in the exchange here in Utah have their own websites, with explanations of benefits and cost calculators. So while I can’t sign up yet, I can get a sense for what I’m signing up for and make comparisons. The interesting thing I’ve noticed is that, regardless of whether I sign up just myself, my spouse, or my children, we’ll pay the same 5 percent of gross income in premiums, because the subsidy gets larger as we add people on. I also noticed that the Silver plans are far better values than the Gold or Bronze.
Our story isn't terribly exotic, but it's ours. My wife and I (42 and 39) are both freelancers working at home, which means—among other things—we've been blessed with being able to raise our 7-year-old child without outside child care. Although solidly middle class by dollars, we don't earn health care through our employment, which means a large chunk of our money ($600 per month) goes toward health insurance, despite being mostly healthy nonsmokers.
We're most interested in the provision of the ACA that requires insurers to cover maternity. It's nearly impossible for single buyers to purchase in our home state of Indiana: one-year waiting period, an extra $10,000 in annual premiums. Basically, you're prepaying for a standard delivery. Because of the lack of coverage—and earnings that have kept us from being certain of Medicaid benefits—we've limited ourselves to one child (which has been tricky, since we're practicing Catholics). We hope for coverage that's either better or cheaper than what we have now—and preferably both!
I tried to register starting at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday. I got almost all the way through, but it timed out after I entered my answer to security questions with a red-boxed error message: "Important: Your account couldnt be created at this time. The system is unavailable." (The lack of proper punctuation on "couldnt" irked me as a writer.) Throughout the rest of the day, I got a variety of error messages as I tried to register: security questions failing to display, "The system is down at the moment," locked Web pages, and even "Please note that two or more answers to the security questions cannot be the same. You must provide distinct answers to the chosen security questions" (despite my certainty that there WERE different answers). I appreciated the website's eagerness to give me a variety of error messages, no matter how nonsensical.
Finally, at 6:03 a.m. Wednesday, on my 19th attempt in 23 hours, I successfully registered. I then tried to log in. Unfortunately, I got stuck on the first page. It wanted my legal name (is my middle name used on legal documentation?), so I logged out. I waited for my wife to wake up, since she has a better accounting of my life than I do. With access to my personal info at hand, I tried logging in again, only to receive a NEW red-boxed error message: "Unexpected error. Error ID:" (No error ID listed.) If there's a silver lining so far, it seems so many people are itching to sign up as soon as possible that they're crashing the system. Bigger pools are good for insurance, and this gives me cautious hope for its long-term prospects—presuming, of course, that I can ever log in again.
Steven Harris Scott
Ph.D. student, 35
George Mason University
My wife and I got married four years ago, at slightly above-average ages—I'm 35 and she's 32—so we have wanted to start the baby-making process for a couple years. A lack of money and health insurance has prevented us. She's worked part-time since earning her M.A. five years ago, mostly as an adjunct professor. I'm finishing my Ph.D. (we met in class!) and am still making grad student money. I've got health insurance through school but to add her would cost $6,000 per year—20 percent of our annual earnings! We need Obamacare so she can get affordable health insurance. We will literally start trying to have a baby the next day!
In light of this, I may have gotten my hopes up too high. I visited healthcare.gov at 12:36 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 1—minutes after turning 35! I was unsuccessful. The sign-up process got stuck on the security questions page. No problem, I'd try again later that day.
I remained unsuccessful the rest of the day—I tried at 10:30 a.m., and this time, I tried Live Chat but couldn't get through after waiting 20 minutes. I tried again at 4:45 p.m. because, well, I like to beat my head against walls sometimes! I tried a third time at 9:25 p.m., again seeing if Live Chat would work. It did! I explained my problem to "Kimberly" and got the following response:
Thank you for your patience. I do apologize for the inconvenience. Thanks for your interest in the Health Insurance Marketplace. We have a lot of visitors trying to use our website right now. That is causing some glitches for some people trying to create accounts or log in. You might have better success during off-peak hours, like later at night or early in the morning. We’ll continue working to improve the site so you can get covered!
That's about all I got from Kimberly. I will keep trying, at least a couple times a day until I get through. This is important enough; I don't mind beating my head against this very hopeful wall.
Small-business owner, 45
I woke up extra early on Tuesday to sign up for insurance through California’s health care exchanges. Even though I really wanted the single-payer system, I am willing to take whatever break I can get from the oppressive monthly premium I’m currently paying for my individual plan insurance ($617 a month, Blue Cross Blue Shield) and the surprise out-of-pocket expenses. I own and run a small business, but I didn’t qualify for a small-group plan originally because insurance companies require 51 percent of employees to be based in California, and only 50 percent of my employees are. (The other half lives and works in Washington.) When I added a second California employee, I looked into getting small-group insurance, but the cost was prohibitive.
The website opened 8 a.m. I expected the site to be inundated with traffic and somewhat slow, but I wasn’t expecting it to take 20 minutes just to create my account. I stuck it out and spent nearly two hours trying to get through the online application. Then the site went down completely.
Around 2 p.m. I went back to try again, and alas, my intermittent persistence pays off, and I complete the application in a stupefying 2½ hours. The site offered me 30 different plans in four different tiers and more than five insurance companies. The only problem was half of them weren’t branded, so I couldn’t see what’s Blue Cross or what’s Kaiser Permanente and so on.
The short story is I ended up contacting the coveredca.com staff via chat, phone, and even Facebook over the course of the day. While all they could really do is apologize and ask for my patience, they were all knowledgeable and courteous. Because there was so much traffic to the site, they were unable to access the system to complete my enrollment for me.
What I didn’t know is that eligibility is determined by tax-filing status, so I thought my significant other and I would be on the same plan, but we’re not because we’re not legally married and we file as “single.” He will have to get insurance on his own. It also means I don’t qualify for the subsidy, despite being the one bringing home the bacon at the moment. Even though I won’t get financial assistance, the most expensive plan they offer me is still 30 percent less than what I’m paying now.
I am still trying to enroll in a plan, so the adventure continues ...