Down Maryland’s health-exchange rabbit hole

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I thought my situation was straightforward. I am self-employed and have been buying health insurance since before the Affordable Care Act. Based on my less-than-stellar income, however, I started to wonder whether I qualified for a subsidy.

Here’s what I found out.

In February, I spoke on the phone to a very nice person at the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. She said I would have to apply online for coverage to find out if I qualified.

“Can I do it now with you?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “we can’t access the portal.”

“Well, if you can’t, how can I?” I asked.

“Different portals,” she said. “But not to worry — you can go in person to do it.” She gave me an address and phone number.

Life intervened, so it wasn’t until late March that I called the number. Out of service. No problem. Entering the address into Google, I found the phone number for that Maryland Health and Human Services building.

The person I reached there said, “We don’t handle that at this building, but I can connect you with someone who can help you.” And he did. (I’d note here that the March 27 Post story “Md. health-care enrollment picks up as deadline looms” said the HHS office I called not only did handle ACA applications, it was one of the busiest operations.)

After about a 20-minute wait, a very nice person came on the line and told me first that there was a number I could call to reach someone to answer my question. It was the non-working number I’d been given a month ago.

Got another number? I asked. She said to call a new 800 number. Then she gave me these instructions for navigating the phone directory to reach a person:

●You will hear a man saying that if you’ve had a problem with your application, you should hang up and dial a number he will give you to deal with your problem.

●Ignore that instruction.

●Then you’ll hear a woman asking if you want English or Spanish. Press 1.

●After that, continue pressing 1 in response to every question, and eventually a live person will answer your call.

I had to wonder, since when do help numbers require special instructions? And by the way, the number the man said to call was the same number I’d just dialed.

After waiting on hold even longer than before, a very nice customer service support person connected me with a non-customer service support person — actually a public affairs person — who was extremely helpful.

Her first suggestion? Don’t even think about going to an office in person. With Maryland’s deadline looming, offices were incredibly crowded. She said that when she arrived at an office at 7:30 a.m. (opening time was 8:30) already there were 75 people lined up.

She then gave me a customer support number. It was the same non-working number that a customer support person tried to give me about half an hour earlier.

“Got another number?” I asked. She did. I could call this number if I needed to register the fact that I’d had a problem with the online application and could not fill out the application before the deadline. Then I would hear from someone in April who would help me resolve that problem.

Time elapsed to this point? Close to two hours.

In the end, I didn’t try registering online before the deadline because I already had insurance. Forgive me if I had a hunch I’d have no luck with the system while it was being taxed by multitudes trying rushing to get their applications in on time.

The day after the deadline, I learned that Maryland was throwing in the towel on its bug-riddled system and switching to a system being used in Connecticut. We are assured that things will be squared away when the next enrollment period begins in November. If true, better late than never, I suppose. Nice people answering the phone notwithstanding, this was a shameful, inept process.

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