Here’s something you probably haven’t heard: getting an individual health insurance policy is far easier today than it was before the government’s disastrous health insurance exchange rollout. I know that’s not what you’ve read elsewhere, but it’s true, and we’re going to prove it to you. More importantly, we’re going to show you easy ways to shop for health insurance that completely bypass the error plagued website.
By all accounts, the Federal Government’s health insurance site, Healthcare.gov, is a complete mess. That’s the website were individuals were supposed to be able to shop for and buy health insurance plans under the newly enacted healthcare legislation. The site launched on October 1, and promptly failed.
Nearly a month later, few people have actually been able to purchase insurance through the site. The best guess is that it will take at least another month to fix. At this point, though, nobody really knows when it will operate correctly. But even if the site isn’t fixed, you may be surprised to learn that you can still get health insurance quite easily under Obamacare.
Heathcare.gov isn’t the Only Game in Town
An important, but seldom mentioned, fact is that the troubled Healthcare.gov site doesn’t serve every single state. And even for the states that it does serve it isn’t the only way to get insurance.
If you live in any of the states listed in the nearby chart, you won’t deal with Healthcare.gov at all. Instead, you’ll shop for insurance on a completely different state-designed website. We’ve put together a list of those sites’ urls for your convenience.
And even if you live in one of the other states covered by Healthcare.gov, you don’t have to use the federal site to get health insurance. You can still buy insurance directly from an insurance company or through a broker without ever dealing with the government website.
The one thing you need to know about this approach is that policies purchased directly from insurers, so-called “Off Exchange Plans,” don’t qualify for federal subsidies. You’ll still benefit from all the other protections of Obamacare but to get subsidized health insurance you will need to purchase that insurance through the federal or state websites.
But here’s the thing. When we got our individual policy in 2010 there were no subsidies available at all. So not getting subsidies today because Healthcare.gov is a steaming pile doesn’t make the situation worse than it was before. It makes it the same. Meanwhile, other features of the new law give us protections we’ve never had before, like the ability to buy insurance that covers pre-existing conditions. On balance, that’s an improvement.
What’s more, not everyone even qualifies for subsidies. If your income exceeds 400% of the poverty line, you are ineligible for federal subsidies anyway. (calculate your percentage here.) If you’re one of the 100-odd million Americans who earn too much for subsides, you can pretty much ignore all the Healthcare.gov press and just go shopping for an individual health insurance policy. You just have to do it old school. And by old school we mean all the way back to before October 1, 2013.
eHealthInsurance is Still a Great Place to Compare Plans
What we did in those good old days is compared health insurance plans at functioning sites like eHealthInsurance.com. Even in the age of Obamacare, that’s still a great source for sizing up various policies. By punching in my zip code and date of birth eHealthInsurance quickly provided summaries and prices for 18 different plans available in my state. Once I identify a policy that suits my needs, I can purchase it directly from the insurer’s website and skip the federal exchange altogether.
Humana’s site, for example, tells me that I can buy insurance from them in about 15 minutes. They also give me a helpful list of information I’ll need to have handy to complete my application.
Humana’s New Application Is Way Better Than the Stack of Papers We Filled Out
Now contrast this post-Obamacare health insurance process, often described as disastrous, to the shopping experience we dealt with previously. Prior to Obamacare we still went to eHealthInsurance.com to compare offerings from various insurers. But once we found a plan we liked we couldn’t just purchase it. We had to convince the insurance company to insure us.
In our case that involved answering 49 specific questions about the previous five years of our health and healthcare. Some of those questions were easy to answer. “Had either of us had chest pain or a heart attack.” No.
Others were ambiguous.
Within the past five years have you had any testing or procedure performed that has been abnormal or the results of which are pending or unknown?”
Huh? Are we sure we even know the answer? What if our doctor failed to tell us of an “abnormal” or inconclusive result because he didn’t think it worth mentioning? Could our insurance company really cancel our coverage because of that omission?
Yes, they could. The following clause printed in bold across the top of our application assured us of that fact (emphasis added).
All requested health information including routine physical exams and information related to spouse and dependents applying for coverage must be provided. If any of the answers are “yes,” please provide complete details. Failure to disclose any health information may result in your policy being modified or terminated, back to your original effective date.”
Another way to say the same thing is that our insurance is valid up until the point we need it. Once we submit a large claim, the insurance company reserves the right to review our file and see if they can find a way to avoid paying the claim.
To guard against that possibility we spent countless hours on the phone calling old physicians to try to get them to fax us our medical records. No easy task. Doctors have better things to do than deal with ex-patient medical records from a half decade ago.
In all, it took us over a month to pull together the information we needed. By the time we were ready to submit our application it had grown to 34 pages. And even with all that information we had no guarantee we’d even be allowed to buy insurance. All we could do was submit our application and hope to be accepted.
If ever we wanted to change insurers or even move to a different state we’d need to go through that entire process again. But no longer.
Disaster v. Catastrophe
Now, because of the new law, insurers can’t reject us because of pre-existing conditions. That means the lengthy application process we endured, along with all its uncertainties and hidden traps, is a thing of the past. Instead of needing to recall every doctor visit, treatment, procedure or prescription to apply for insurance, now all we need is our birth date and social security number.
We’re told that the official rollout of Obamacare is a disaster, and in a way that is true. Compared to a modern e-commerce site Healthcare.gov is an inexcusable wreck. But the right comparison isn’t between Healthcare.gov and Amazon.com. It’s between the individual health insurance market we had before and the one we have now.
And that old system really was an unmitigated catastrophe. It required you to jump through hoops to even have a chance of purchasing insurance specifically designed to not pay the very expenses you want to insure. That last point made individual health insurance policies, if you were fortunate enough to even get one, potentially worthless.
Now the hoops are gone and the insurance is reliable, we just have to work around a broken website. All in all, that is a huge improvement.
If you’re a perpetual traveler or anyone else concerned about getting an individual health insurance policy, you may also find these other articles helpful: