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Alan Kinsolving, a fisheries biologist with NOAA for 15 years, left his government job and its benefits last summer. Despite beginning his search for insurance in October, spending nearly 40 hours trying to navigate the Healthcare.gov website and finally calling an insurance company directly, Kinsolving won't be covered until February. (Taylor Mahoney/Arizona Daily Sun)

The new Affordable Care Act was supposed to make shopping for health insurance easier, but in the case of Flagstaff resident Alan Kinsolving it was anything but easy.

After spending nearly 40 hours trying to navigate the Healthcare.gov exchange website and several hours on hold, Kinsolving had to call an insurance company directly in order to get signed up for a policy. He won’t have health insurance until the beginning of February, even though he started shopping for health insurance in October.

“I’m a real fan of single-payer health care,” he said. “I’m a registered Democrat. So it isn’t like I’ve got an ax to grind, but I’ve been trying to get insurance through the exchange since it opened.”

Kinsolving, who worked for the federal government for 15 years before retiring to become a contractor, used a complex data system to keep  track of fish that he said worked better than the Healthcare.gov website.

Kinsolving’s health insurance journey started on Oct. 1.

“I got as far as the first error screen (involving income) and then nothing,” he said. “I knew I didn’t qualify for a subsidy, but I just couldn’t bypass that screen. When I was finally able to get past it, nothing got better.”

On Oct. 25, he said he was able to fill out an application online, but wasn’t able to view any of the policies. He called the help line for the website and was told that they couldn’t cancel his application so he could start over.

Kinsolving was told his case would be “elevated” and he would get a call within 48 hours.

“A week later, I called again and was told there was no record of my case, but I would be called within 72 hours,” he said.

In mid-November, Kinsolving was told the problem with the website was fixed and he could try again.

He got the same result.

“I called again and the phone service agent walked me through applying over the phone and gave me an application number so that I could choose a policy online,” Kinsolving said. “All of the customer service reps were wonderful. They were great to work with, but there just wasn’t anything they could do.”

SAME ERROR MESSAGE

Two days later, on Dec. 10, the system wouldn’t recognize Kinsolving’s application number. So he called again and was told to wait 48 hours and try again.

He tried again on Dec. 24, but he still couldn’t view the policies. After another 45 minutes on the phone with the help desk, Kinsolving was issued a new application number.

When he attempted to log back on to the website, Kinsolving got a message that said the website was busy and he should try to log in later for the best experience. He was able to log in later in the day, but was still unable to  view any policies.

On Dec. 26, Kinsolving tried again and called the help desk around 2 a.m.

“At this point, it was becoming kind of joke. I mean who’s on hold to tech support the day after Christmas?” he said.

After 45 minutes on hold, a customer service representative told Kinsolving to delete his account and try again. With the representative on the phone, Kinsolving deleted his account, filled out a new application and received the same error message as before.

“At that point, he said there was nothing further that they could do and suggested that I call one of the insurance companies directly,” Kinsolving said. “I wanted to have my insurance effective January 1 so I asked if that would still be possible.  I was told that since I had a documented history of trying to get coverage since October that I would still be able to get the insurance effective January 1.”

Kinsolving called Blue Cross/Blue Shield directly the next day. An insurance representative helped him fill out the application and told him that his insurance would not be effective Jan. 1.

 When he repeated his story, including the part about the federal customer service representative saying his coverage would be effective Jan. 1, a supervisor at Blue Cross/Blue Shield told Kinsolving that perhaps his insurance would be retroactive to Jan. 1.

Kinsolving received his insurance card in the mail on Jan. 7. The card shows his insurance will start on Feb. 1 and he has yet to receive a bill.

HARD TO MAKE INFORMED DECISION

Kinsolving said he’s been disappointed by the whole experience.

“It’s a really weird feeling being a liberal and being disappointed in this,” he said. “The website was spectacularly much more difficult than necessary. There was just an inexcusable lack of oversight on this.”

The website also could have done a better job of sorting out policies for people, Kinsolving said.

“There were about 90 different policies just for Blue Cross/Blue Shield alone,” he said. “It was almost the same as trying to figure out your phone bill. Even as a scientist and a geek, I couldn’t really make an informed decision.”

The whole thing puzzles Kinsolving.

“They came up with something that’s not the best of the free market or health care,” he said. “I was just so supremely badly implemented. I think many of the successes were like my own, where people applied directly to the insurance companies.”

Kinsolving’s recommendation  is to avoid applying for health insurance on the Healthcare.gov website.

“Don’t even try to do it online,” he said. “Just use the website as a way to compare policies and then call the insurance companies directly.”

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