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Many consumers contacted by Al Jazeera who had attempted to use the exchanges were supporters of the ACA and enthusiastic about having new options — which makes their current conundrum even more maddening.
Paul D., the part-time minister, has been without health insurance for three and a half years, ever since he was booted off Medicaid in New Jersey when his son turned 19. Although he’s had open-heart surgery in the past, he has avoided going to the cardiologist for the last few years for fear of how he would pay for any of the needed procedures. He has resorted to praying as a form of health care.
“I keep my fingers crossed,” he said.
“My feeling is if you’re planning this, you get the best people you can so that when you roll it out, these glitches don’t happen,” Paul added. “In this day and age, when you’re touting a program like this, and this is your signature domestic issue, you better make damn sure that it rolls out properly.”
Mallory Tossell, 27, was eager to see what the exchanges could offer her since she has several pre-existing conditions that have prevented her from getting covered in the past. She tried doggedly to get on the Texas website to see if she qualifies for Medicaid or subsidies, and is still waiting on an answer.
“When I see high schoolers with more competent websites, it’s discouraging,” she said.
Tossell said she thinks consumers in bluer states may be having an easier time.
“When it comes down to it, it’s about Texas being spiteful about anything that the federal government tells it to do,” she said. “The people that are trying to be helped are being stomped on.”
Wilson, 55, is in between jobs and has had kidney problems in the past, the expenses for which he’s paid out of pocket. He wanted to browse plans in Florida and South Carolina, in case his next employer does not provide adequate coverage, but has failed to log on over 100 times. The employees at the call centers he is directed to are unfailingly polite, he said, but have no idea how to help him.
“If our president is so passionate about this program… why didn’t they have their ducks in a row?” he asked. “Let’s compare to private industry — how successful would eBay or Paypal be if they had so many flaws?”
Longo, 48, the Organizing for America volunteer, is confident that eventually the problems will be ironed out, but worries about giving more ammunition to Obamacare’s many adversaries.
“I’m frustrated because it makes the ACA look bad and it gives critics fodder to just to use anything they can to throw at this,” she said. “I really hope that people will give it a chance and not judge it on this really awful beginning it’s having.”
Of course, some of the more persistent users have been able to enroll, through sheer tenacity. Laura McGinley, 44, was the first person in Wyoming to enroll in a plan offered by WINhealth, one of two insurance companies offering plans in the state. How does she know?
The CEO of the company, Stephen Goldstone, called her on Oct. 3 to congratulate her on “an extraordinary thing.”
Many of those interviewed by Al Jazeera expressed confidence that the issues would ultimately be resolved. Sabrina Corlette, a professor at the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown, said Medicare and Medicare Part D were also plagued by initial problems that were smoothed out over time.
“There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on,” she said. “At this point in time, I am less interested in assigning blame and more interested in how quickly can it be fixed and what can we tell consumers.”