A Real Encounter with Healthcare.gov's "Live Chat" Service

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Oct. 6 2013 10:10 AM

PGSTX0534 Will Not See You Now

One woman's quest to sign up for insurance through healthcare.gov.

Update, Oct. 10, 2013: Alice, our previous correspondent whose difficulty with PGSTX0534 is chronicled below, is still eager to find out how she will be covered under the Affordable Care Act, but her attempt to find out about coverage in Pennsylvania continues to be stymied. Here is her latest dispatch:

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

Frustration abounds with healthcare.gov. I finally gave up and called the phone number that was provided in my faux "Live Chat." I got through to someone right away. When I asked what was causing so much trouble, she said it was that so many people were using the system that it was causing glitches. Did they not expect THE ENTIRE NATION to be doing this? Since it is now required? So she said she could mail me a paper form to fill out, which would take three weeks to get to me. And then I would fill it out and mail it back, and then they would let me know what my coverage options would be and any discount I could get. I asked her if she could email me the form, and she said, "No, we don't have that capability."

Original Post: I have been in regular conversation with a person in Pennsylvania trying to get information about coverage under the Affordable Care Act. She is optimistic about the coverage she might get, but also wonders why her existing plan, which is far from perfect, is being canceled on Jan. 1. (The president said if you like your plan you will be able to keep it.) She started trying at 8 a.m. on Oct. 1, the minute the website went live, and has tried about 10 times over the week. Mostly she has been shut out entirely. Recently she has been able to at least enter in some of her information, but the site doesn’t record the information correctly and doesn’t let her change it. She took her questions to the “Live Chat” to see if she could get some answers. This is what she got (the applicant’s name is the only item in this transcript that has been altered):

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[4:09:56 pm]: Thanks for contacting Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat. Please wait while we connect you to someone who can help.
[4:09:59 pm]: Please be patient while we're helping other people.
[4:10:30 pm]: Please be patient while we're helping other people.
[4:11:00 pm]: Please be patient while we're helping other people.
[4:11:31 pm]: Please be patient while we're helping other people.
[4:12:02 pm]: Please be patient while we're helping other people.
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[4:14:03 pm]: Please be patient while we're helping other people.
[4:14:34 pm]: Please be patient while we're helping other people.
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[4:15:35 pm]: Please be patient while we're helping other people.
[4:16:06 pm]: Please be patient while we're helping other people.
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[4:20:10 pm]: Please be patient while we're helping other people.
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[4:29:20 pm]: Please be patient while we're helping other people.
[4:29:50 pm]: Please be patient while we're helping other people.
[4:30:27 pm]: Welcome! You're now connected to Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat.

Thanks for contacting us. My name is PGSTX0534. To protect your privacy, please don't provide any personal information, like Social Security Number, or any other sensitive medical or personal information.

[4:30:51 pm]: PGSTX0534
Hello, how may I help you today?

[4:31:12 pm]: Alice
My information is not recording correctly in the summary of my application

[4:31:35 pm]: Alice
I have tried to edit it multiple times and it is still wrong

[4:32:21 pm]: PGSTX0534
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. Keep trying, and thanks for your patience. We'll continue working to improve the site so you can get covered

[4:32:40 pm]: Alice
what does that mean?

[4:32:52 pm]: Alice
It says my application is "in Progress"

[4:33:12 pm]: Alice
Does that mean it is not completed and I can continue to try to edit it?

[4:33:55 pm]: Alice
Hello??

[4:34:14 pm]: PGSTX0534
Thank you. One moment please while I look that up.

[4:36:19 pm]: PGSTX0534
The only way we can see your application is you will have to call The Health Insurance Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596. We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist you.

[4:36:47 pm]: Alice
What does the Chat Service do then?

She received no response to her last question.

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