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TONY WILSON: Exchange website users must 'Try again later'

Tony Wilson

Tony Wilson

Last Tuesday, I sat down at my computer around 4:30 a.m. with my cup of coffee and an open mind. Neither the coffee nor my open-mindedness lasted very long.

Oct. 1 marked the official rollout of the much-anticipated health insurance exchange for Georgians and citizens in 30-plus other states. The exchange is also referred to as the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM), and it is the centerpiece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

The FFM is a web portal (www.healthcare.gov) that allows Georgians another option when purchasing health insurance coverage. As I mentioned in last week’s column, it would allow Georgians another option if the site actually worked.

One thing I was immediately frustrated by with the website is you are required to set up an account before you can review the plan options listed on the FFM. You can follow all the links on the website and read how great and wonderful this is going to be, but you can’t get to what you actually need to in order to make an informed decision without entering some personal information.

It would be much more convenient to people accessing the site to simply be able to enter some basic (and generic) information about themselves and their families and see plan designs and rates available to them in Georgia than going through an account set-up process.

The information needed to issue rates would be ages, tobacco use (if any), zip code and estimated income. You shouldn’t have to enter more than that just to get options.

Some time back I visited the exchange websites for California and Massachusetts — both state run exchanges — and I had no problem entering a zip code for a particular area in each state and seeing in less than a minute all the plan options available to me and my family, assuming we lived in the zip codes I selected.

Why is the federal government making this more complicated than it needs to be?

(Remember that old saying, a camel is a horse designed by a government committee? Better yet, a government committee is a cul-de-sac into which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.)

But, I digress.

I clicked on the Live Chat button for help. It took several minutes for someone to connect, but the person did confirm that I would have to set up an account in order to proceed. Foiled again.

I asked why I had to set up an account to simply view the plans and rates.

“You just do,” was the reply.

Wow. I haven’t heard the old “Because I said so, that’s why!” routine since I was a teenager arguing with my mom about why I had to be home before midnight.

After a few technical glitches, I was able to set up my account, and I proceeded to log in when I was met with, “The webpage cannot be found.”

What?

I went back to the website, clicked the apply now button to get to the log in page and was met with, “We have a lot of visitors on the site right now.”

Really? And here I thought I was the only one at 4:30 in the morning trying to access the website.

The message went on to ask for my patience — we all know I’m loaded up with that — because, “We don’t want you to lose your place in line.”

Really? I don’t want to lose my mind either, but I’m headed that way.

And so it has gone each day since the opening of the exchange. “The system is down at the moment.” Live Chat personnel asking me to, “Try again later.” Promises that, “We are working to make the experience better.”

Maybe I shouldn’t be too critical. I might find an IRS agent at my door — with his camel tied to a tree in the cul-de-sac.

Questions or comments? Feel free to e-mail me at twilson@nfp.com.

Tony L. Wilson is a partner with NUVISION Financial Corporation based in Conyers. NUVISION is a subsidiary of National Financial Partners Corp. (NFP), which provides benefits solutions for companies.