For consumers looking to enroll in the Affordable Care Act, 2014 began the way 2013 ended: With frustration and confusion.
As Americans rushed on New Year’s Day to enroll in President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, it became clear that the glitchy online federal health care exchanges would struggle to handle the crush of customers.
The most recent frustrations with the multibillion dollar Obamacare website involve long waits, paperwork confusion, and accidentally canceled orders.
Chicago resident Sheri Zajcew, for example, was almost turned down for surgery on Thursday but was able to get it after her doctor, John Venetos, decided to operate without the usual go-ahead from the insurance company.
Why did he operate without first consulting with insurance providers? Well, it’s not because the doctor didn’t try. It’s because his office spent a full two hours on hold with an insurance provider trying to see whether Zajcew needed prior authorization for the operation, CBS D.C. reported.
Venetos’ office manager eventually gave up and the doctor decided to proceed with the operation anyway.
“I’m not a happy camper,” Nate Zajcew, Sheri’s husband, told the CBS affiliate. “I understand it’s just a matter of paperwork and yesterday was a holiday. I can be an SOB, too, at times, but since they’re going on with the procedure, it’s OK.”
The couple used the federal healthcare.gov site to enroll in a Blue Cross Blue Shield “bronze plan” on Dec. 16.
Venetos said the problems with Obamacare signups has caused a “tremendous uncertainty and anxiety” with patients who have called in recently.
One group of patients said they thought they were already enrolled in Obamacare but they hadn’t received their insurance cards. Another group that had its insurance policies canceled was unsure whether Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s one-year extension of all canceled plans had taken effect yet.
For his part, Ventos said he’ll take the risk and care for his patience even if there's confusion about their coverage.
“We feel it’s the right thing to do,” Venetos said. “We may end up stuck holding the bag and not getting paid on these claims.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois is responding to the confusion by extending its hours and adding more staff members to field questions from confused customers.
“Every week we’re adding staff to our call centers and we’re also enhancing our call routing features to better serve our customers,” spokesman Greg Thompson told CBS.
And for at least one Chicago resident, Blue Cross Blue Shield’ efforts to address consumers’ needs has paid off.
“I made a phone call. I pushed the right button and got a live person,” said 61-year-old Nancy Pace, explaining that she had to make a call because the payment option on the Obamacare website “doesn’t work.”
And because there is no payment option on the healthcare.gov website, there needs to be a distinction made between who is “enrolled” (it requires payment) and who has “signed up.” So far, 1.1 million Americans have “signed up” for Obamacare, according to the White House, but they are not formally “enrolled.”
Pace added that she’s glad she and her husband are able to sign up for insurance, especially because things have been tough since he lost his job at a machinery plant in 2005. But she’s worried about the sustainability of the Affordable Care Act.
“My biggest concern is, how long is this going to last? How long can our country bear this expense?” she asked. “It’s a benefit for us right now. But I don’t see how it can possibly be sustainable. … Am I going to use it? You bet I am. For one thing, it’s a law. I don’t have a choice.”
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