Signed up for a California Exchange plan (I think) (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 17 Nov 2013

Signed up for a California Exchange plan (I think)

I signed up yesterday for a health care plan on California's health insurance exchange, CoveredCA. It wasn't pretty, but I signed up for a plan in the end. Or at least, I think I did.

The process was full of hilarity, a several hour haul involving pages that didn't work, pages with mistakes on them, and of course, timeouts and restarts.

Brief thought before I begin: California's healthcare site is That's dot com. I keep seeing articles in the newspaper warning people not to get confused by imitator sites, as there are several with names similar to the official site (Update: see, for example, Kamala Harris shutters 10 fake Covered California websites and State shuts down bogus health care websites) , and I always wonder -- why don't government sites take advantage of dot gov domains? You see the same thing on the national credit-report-check website: there's a dot com website where you can get your official government-sanctioned free credit report, and then there are about twenty imitator sites with names that any normal person would confuse with the real site, which are basically scams that try to suck you in to paying for various products in the guise of giving you your free credit report.

Government folks: the whole point of dot gov is to tell us it's a government-sanctioned site. Please use it.

Anyway, back to I had already been on the site a few days earlier. CoveredCA says that you can browse plans without signing up for an account. That's sort of true -- but that's not really true. You can browse plans, sure ... but you can't find out any useful information about sorts of subsidies you might qualify for. The site asks you questions about your location, your income and the age of everyone in your household, then deposits you on a page that chirpily informs you "You may be eligible for ..." a list of every possible type of plan, from Medi-cal (California's version of Medicaid) to regular exchange plans to ... aid to mothers and infants? When I've already filled out a form saying that there are no children in the house?

At the bottom right is some small print saying that you have to create an account to find out what you're actually eligible for. Then why ask those other questions?

Okay, so I guess I need to sign up even to browse. With trepidation I began the sign-up process.

Signing up

The first hurdle came only a few screens in, when I typed in my address. 123 Mystreet Ave, San Jose, CA, 91234. I got an error screen.

Confirm Your Mailing Address

The address you've entered is different from those on file. Please confirm which is correct.

The address you entered
123 Mystreet Ave,
San Jose,
Possible Address 1
123 Mystreet,
San Jose,

See the difference? It took me a minute, but they have a comma between my street name and "Ave".

I don't normally put a comma there, and I don't think most people do. So I left "The address you entered" checked. I probably shouldn't have: later in the process, it asked me my address again (don't they have, like, you know, a database, so people don't have to enter the same address multiple times?) and it showed me the exact same screen.

I stubbornly stuck to my guns and continued to insist on the version without the spurious comma, whereupon the site stopped responding at all, and fifteen minutes went by without any pages loading. I tried reloading, going back, etc. but I finally had to give up and reload Fortunately, it had saved at least some of my work so I didn't have to start from the beginning.

Accepting the commaed version might not have helped, anyway. These 10 or 15 minute delays were fairly common throughout the process. Two or three times, while I was waiting for a page to load, I got an amusing (I just accidentally typed that as "abusing" -- talk about a Freudian slip!) popup saying that my session was about to time out, did I want to continue?

Garbled pages

The next snag (aside from timeouts) I hit was the Household Authorized Representative Information page. I was out of the room when it loaded, since it took many minutes to get from the previous page to that one, so I didn't see it load, but when it did, this is what I got: [Garbled CoveredCA Authorized Rep screen]
(click on the image for the full screenshot). Um? Did we time out and only load a partial page?

I crossed my fingers and hit the browser's Reload button. I watched a page full of questions come in -- whew! Except that about a second after the page finished filling with questions, they all vanished, to be replaced by the same thing I'd seen before.

I'm not entirely sure what this screen is for. Of course I would want my husband authorized. But I can always give him the password I used to log in, and I'm not sure he isn't automatically authorized anyway. Maybe this screen is for authorizing someone else. Anyway, let's just hope the default is okay and I'm not agreeing to anything I don't want, and click Continue.

And the end of the process was a statement to read and sign, under penalty of perjury. It included this amusing paragraph:

I know that I must tell the (Co-Brand Application Name) if anything changes from (and is different than) what I have provided on this application.
[I know that I must tell the (Co-Brand Application Name) if anything changes]

I'll be sure to notify (Co-Brand Application Name). I promise. Meanwhile, do you have anything to tell me about Lorem ipsum?

Choosing a plan

I finally got through the signup process, about two hours after I started. Whew! It said I could now choose a plan. But when I clicked on that button, no page loaded. I waited 15 minutes, gave up and clicked Reload, waited another 15 minutes, and then had to leave for a meeting. So I clicked Stop, hoping that the site had saved all my info and I'd be able to look at plans later that afternoon.

When I returned to the computer, of course my attempt to click on the button to choose a plan took me to a Server Error page. I expected that, after letting the computer sleep for several hours. So I loaded CoveredCa and logged in again.

This time I was able to get into the "Find a Plan" part of the site. (Less traffic in the afternoon? Or was the button from the signup page taking me to the wrong place? I'll probably never know.)

The user interface on the plan comparison page is horrifying. You're shown three plans at once (no, resizing the browser window doesn't increase that number). Then there are two nested scrollbars: the outer one scrolls the page that includes the names of the three plans, while the inner one only scrolls the part you can see below the big rectangle describing each plan. Assuming there is anything you can see below that part: I had to maximize my browser window to my 1680x1050 monitor and scroll the outer page to where I could just barely see the names of the plans, and then I still could only see a tiny fraction of the available details at once. To really compare plans, you have to expand all the categories, then scroll up, down, up, down, up, down, taking notes on paper since you can't see more than half a category at once (and of course, only for the three plans you're currently viewing). Don't even bother trying this on a laptop.

If you want to see more than the first three plans, there are the amusing scroll tabs. On the left of the three plans is a tab with a symbol that looks like an equal with dots above and below it: that scrolls left (if not already at the first plan). On the right is a tab with the symbol alpha; that scrolls right. Why those symbols? I have no idea. Maybe the UTF-8 codes correspond to right-arrow and left-arrow in some Windows-based design tool.

It took me quite a while to figure out how to tell which plans cover which doctors. It's under the Summary category, My doctors, Search.

Eventually I gave up on trying to compare plans intelligently, and just picked the silver plan from our current provider which I was pretty sure would cover our current doctors. Amazingly, it let me sign up, and told me we were enrolled -- though it wouldn't be official until the provider had contacted us about billing and we'd made the first payment. It said we should expect them to contact us by November 15. (Checks calendar) ... Why ... that's tomorrow! And it was about 2:30pm already. That seems awfully quick. It's the 17th as I'm writing this ... maybe there'll be something in tomorrow's mail.

And in case you're counting, the deal we'll be getting through the ACA is stupefyingly better than the individual plan we were paying for before. Like $10,000 a year better, with a $500 deductible instead of the $4000/person deductible we had before. So don't get the wrong idea from this snarky blog post -- I'm a big fan of health care reform. It's just badly done websites I object to.

Survey: How are we doing?

Finally done! Wahoo! And at the end, there was a chance to fill in a little survey about my experience on CoveredCA. Of course, I wanted to tell them about the problems I'd encountered, so I clicked the button. I filled out the survey and clicked Submit.

[About to submit CoveredCA survey]

You know how if a form on https directs you to a non-SSL page, Firefox gives you a warning about it? I got that warning here. But it didn't concern me -- I'm not worried about whether my survey results are encrypted when I'm sending them. So I clicked Continue.

[Must use SSL for the CoveredCA survey]

And got this: you must use ssl to access this resource. I about died laughing. A fitting end to hours of hilarity.

So as you read coverage of the problems with the national healthcare exchange, and all the chirpy reports about how the states with their own exchanges, especially California, are doing so much better, keep this in mind. Especially when the articles mention things like not having gotten much negative feedback or heard about problems their users are having. (Is this a good time to mention the helpful "Online chat" link at the top of the CoveredCA site that just reloads the main page?)

You have to admit, a survey page that doesn't work is a great way to reduce the amount of negative feedback you get!

Update: it's half a week later now; no word from the insurer. I went back to CoveredCA and logged on to verify that I'm really enrolled. On the main screen, it shows me a timeline with six steps: Summary - Household - Personal Data - Income - Eligibility - Enrollment. The first four have blue squares with checkmarks in them; Eligibility has a blue square but no checkmark, and Enrollment is white and un-checked. I have no idea what this means, but it doesn't look good. The squares with checks are clickable; the others aren't.

Clicking around in desperation, I discovered by accident that if I clicked on "Income" (the last clickable step), on the Income page it added a checkmark under "Eligibility" in the timeline at the top, making it clickable. If I then clicked on Eligibility, it didn't add a checkmark for Enrollment, but it did give me a "Choose a plan" button at the bottom, so I clicked on that. That took me to a page titled "Household Enrollment Summary" which showed me the plan I'd signed up for. There's a link over the "Carrier Website Address" but it goes to a nonexistent page on Meanwhile, in the top timeline, Enrollment is blue though it still isn't checked.

So am I really enrolled in a plan? Wish I knew.

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