Let me start by saying that, starting 1/1/14, we have what appears to be an excellent health care plan that gives us a lot more flexibility and better service than we have now, for at least $1,200 less annually, and with a 42% lower deductible. Between that and the covered services, as well as the lower co-pays for those services, The ACA has already been of enormous benefit to our family. And I believe people like us, two people building a small company and trying to give back to the community in every way they can while developing entrepreneurially, is the future of this country.
I will also say that this post is in no way a debate on the federal ACA site. I live in Minnesota, where our state government was wise enough to run its own exchange. I have not even looked at the federal site, because I have no reason to.
But Holy Hannah, the MNSure site is bad enough.
We first tried to get on the MNSure site in early November. We had spent about 6 hours total before today looking at plans and creating an account and such, all the while running into issues like the fact that the site is closed from 10pm to 6am daily, and on Sundays. Basically, even most small boutique stores have better hours, and I am not quite sure why the state is treating this like a bricks-and-mortar place that you walk into (albeit one without actual service staff).
But today, lo and behold, the site was actually open, so we decided to sit down and knock out the application. Which we did — eventually — having spent only 5 hours on it each and placed 3 calls to service plus an email. I'll point out here that we still don't actually know if we have a tax credit coming through. My assumption is that this gets hammered out more at tax time, I hope.
This SHOULD be pretty easy for people like us. I have a lot of human resources savvy. We have an independent broker, who could help us some of the way. We have good records. Patrick is a tech guy. But the whole thing was confounding. It kept on booting us out of the system, and we would have to go in and restart, again, and again, and again.
So, if you're still doing this this week, here are some tip tips to keep in mind:
1) Do it ASAP. It takes a lot longer than you think. Also, don't forget that you have to CANCEL whatever insurance you have right now so that you are not double covered when your new coverage starts. In our case, we had to ensure the new coverage would start 1/1 and the old coverage was cancelled, because once the new plan year started we could not opt out.
2. This is the most important thing I will tell you. At each page, hit "Save and Exit" at the bottom. Even if you don't want to exit. Then re-enter and start again. Otherwise, it will not remember your data. And when it inevitably crashes, you will have to re-enter everything.
3. If your income is variable, especially if you might make less than last year, (or if you have done something crazy like been self-employed last year and started a small 2-person LLC this year), estimate high to tie to your last years' taxes. Even though it asks you for what you are making this year. Otherwise, if you are not making as much money this year, you may not be eligible for the MNSure regular plans. The system may decide you make too little money, and that you should be on Minnesota Care and Medicaid instead. And then it tells you to sit tight while it mails you out the forms in a few weeks. And you will miss the 1/1 deadline, and then they will decide you are not eligible for MNCare/Medicaid anyway, and you will be uninsured.
4. Once you submit first your application, and then your health care plan, you are tied to it. No changes. So, for instance, if you submit your application with this year's income and find out you really meant last year's income to get the plan you want (see #3 above), you have to call in and ask them to change the income, which they will try to get to in the next few weeks, and then reapply. You have to keep calling to check and see if they have done that, because they cannot notify you when they have. Meanwhile, your spouse may (read: "WILL") want to open their own account and try again, because now you are officially stuck in limbo.
5. Each drop down box has a little blank line before the Yes or No. If you accidentally hit that blank line (which you can somehow choose), it can boot you out of the system.
6. If you are booted out of the system, just keep on trying to go back like a dog trying to tear into a closed bag of food. Try different browsers. Shut down your computer and go back. Use a different machine. The errors are variable and erratic, and you will constantly run into 404 errors, be re-routed to the State of MN website ("oh look, there's Governor Dayton!"), and other exciting detours.
7. None of the choices are as you expect. For instance, there's a part where you have to define your relationship to the dependent applicators. I could not say I was the "wife" of Patrick, but rather the "spouse," not the "mother" of Beatrix but rather the "parent."
8. The system is full of redundancies. I had to enter my name, address, and other information I believe 4 separate times. Often, you have to enter the information using different formatting. If you use formatting different than what they want (ie 651-227-1839 instead of (651) 227-1839, it won't accept it and it can freeze you up.
9. The plan support people are actually pretty helpful, if you can get to it. The tech support people have no clue, and know the system is effed up and that there's nothing to be done, and will literally tell you "I guess you're on your own."
10. We did all this with the most basic plan possible. We did not specify doctors or clinics, we did not choose the HSA option, we didn't care about gym memberships or weight reduction, we did not elect adult dental. I am 1000% certain that adding any of these would have totally thrown this over the edge. And, as I said, we're still not sure what our tax credit will be.