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Chuck Thies: Obamacare's Broken Promises and Broken Websites

Three weeks into Obamacare and glitches abound. Even worse, President Obama broke his promise.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    President Barack Obama defended Obamacare at the White House Monday. Columnist Chuck Thies was frustrated by the experience of shopping for insurance in the D.C. exchange. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

    "If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what." -- President Barack Obama, June 15, 2009.

    Well, not really.

    On Sept. 30, I received a letter from my health insurance provider. It reads: "In short, the ACA requires you to pick a new plan to maintain coverage because your current plan will cease to exist at the time of your renewal."

    The ACA, better known as Obamacare, has deemed my health insurance plan obsolete.

    I am self-employed and buy insurance directly from one of the largest providers in America

    In 2009, at the same time that President Obama was promoting his healthcare reform agenda, I was shopping for an insurance plan that would meet the needs and budget of my family.

    The combination of medicine and money makes for a complicated decision-making process under any circumstances, but even more when politicians are debating a total overhaul of the health insurance system.

    My mind was set at ease, however, by these frequently repeated words from our president: "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan."

    After weeks of research I found the right plan for my family. We applied and were accepted.

    I like our plan. We’ve kept it for nearly 4 years. I do not want to change a single thing about it.

    Now, despite numerous reassurances from Obama, it is defunct.

    The letter from my health insurance company says that my only option is to purchase insurance through DCHealthLink.com, a website run by the District of Columbia.

    By now, you have probably heard a lot of news stories about problems with the federal site, Healthcare.gov.

    Here is some good news: the D.C. site is better.

    But there is bad news, too. DCHealthLink has glitches.

    In order to review insurance options on the website, I was required to create a profile of my family. The default setting identified me as a "tobacco user." I am not a tobacco user. Though I could change the setting for my wife and our son, my profile was stuck on tobacco user.

    Apparently, I was not alone in experiencing the problem. DCHealthLink officials told me that the tobacco issue was among the first reported by customers. The cause was pre-programmed, "out of the box" software.

    It is now fixed.

    I have experienced other problems with the site. For example, when I used the "Cost Calculator," it did not calculate costs. Instead, the results were "browse plans" or "apply now."

    The browse option directed me to a sign-up page that also gave me an option to "Calculate Your Cost." The loop was endless.

    DCHealthLink officials walked me through the process and tweaked some of my information so that I would qualify for Medicaid. The trick worked; cost estimates appeared.

    But I don’t truly qualify for Medicaid. Without the trick, the calculator does not work for me. DCHealthLink officials explained that the calculator might not be working properly because I may qualify for a tax credit.

    Folks in my shoes won’t know our tax credit status until November when a different glitch is fixed.

    DCHealthLink officials acknowledge that applying for insurance on the site can be challenging. They have created a citywide network of "assisters" who provide help at no charge. I contacted an assister by email and he replied within a few hours.

    Glitches aside, I was finally able to review the 31 plans for which my family and I are eligible. From what I can tell, a plan similar to what we have now is going to cost more. I will probably have to shell out an additional $4,000 annually.

    Our current plan is not "ACA-compliant" so it makes sense that a newfangled plan would cost more. Right?

    According to the letter from my insurer, Obamacare plans are required to provide prescription drug coverage. But my current plan covers prescriptions; co-payments are typically around $30.

    Obamacare plans are required to cover maternity and newborn care. I don’t need that kind of coverage. The insurance I like paid nearly all the costs to have my baby-making capabilities eliminated.

    Obamacare plans are also required to cover "mental health and substance abuse disorder services."

    Actually, that might come in handy. Obamacare is making me crazy and may drive me to start sniffing glue again.

    DCHealthLink officials estimate that 67,000 people will need to apply for insurance through their site. Of those, 25,000 are like me; they have been buying their own insurance. Another 42,000 are currently uninsured.

    On Oct. 1, the DCHealthLink site opened for business.

    During the first week, 8,427 individuals and families created DCHealthLink accounts. In that time 167 individuals and families selected a plan to enroll in.

    During the next two weeks, 3,867 accounts were created. 154 selected a plan to enroll in.

    That is a big drop-off.

    DCHealthLink officials tell me that they anticipated the surge of initial interest. The drop-off is not surprising and they expect more people to use the site as deadlines approach.

    To sum up: 67,000 people are required to purchase insurance through DCHealthLink.

    In three weeks, 321 have completed the process.

    I have the feeling my experience and frustrations are not unique.

    Chuck Thies is a political, communications and advocacy consultant. From 1998 to 2010 his professional portfolio included District of Columbia politics. Chuck has worked on national projects and internationally in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, China and Mexico. If you are daring, follow him on Twitter: @ChuckThies.

    Link: http://twitter.com/chuckthies