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The numbers are staggering: In the first 24 hours of open enrollment in Obamacare on HealthCare.gov, just six enrollments managed to make it through the glitch-riddled system, according to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. In this second installment of our first-person accounts of trying to sign up, Stephen Hamilton, a retired executive from Gross Pointe Woods, Mich., tells his story about how he was told he could keep his coverage if he liked it — and then received a cancellation notice anyway. Here is his first-person account of what happened.
I am a healthy 63-year-old retiree who has been buying my own health insurance for over a decade. My plan is a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Blue Preferred PPO Blue Basic, with which I have been very satisfied. It has NO deductible with a max annual copay of $1,000 and my monthly premium is $320. It does not cover office visits nor prescription drugs. So I negotiate with my doctors for a "discounted cash price" for office visits and usually am billed half their insurance price. The few times I am prescribed a drug, I shop around and usually get them for $4 at Kroger. My annual office visit and drug costs are usually less than $200.
I was not too concerned about the Affordable Care Act as I had a plan I was happy with and the president said I could keep it. I had been a tepid supporter of President Obama and the ACA until now. (We should have gone to a single payer national-insurer system like most western countries which would lower our costs and improve the results.) Then, in early October I received a letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield that my health plan would be canceled on Dec. 31, 2013.
And yet the White House web page still states in the first paragraph: "For those Americans who already have health insurance, the only changes you will see under the law are new benefits, better protections from insurance-company abuses, and more value for every dollar you spend on health care. If you like your plan you can keep it and you don't have to change a thing due to the health-care law." That is NOT TRUE! The Oct. 13 Detroit Free Press front page said Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan sent 140,000 cancellations like mine. Other insurers and states are as well. Millions of Americans are losing their health insurance.
When I spoke to Blue Cross Blue Shield and used their website, I discovered no plan gives me coverage that's as good. And they are almost double the cost or more. Blue Cross Blue Shield has wanted to drop my current plan as not profitable, but the State of Michigan forced them to keep it. Now the ACA just gave them the way to drop it. None of their new plans have no deductible. The lowest maximum annual deductible/copay cost is $5,100 vs my $1,000. They cost $575 and above. Blue Cross Blue Shield will now make double the money on me and probably the other 140,000 Michiganders who are losing their plans. The ACA is a gift to insurers and their lobbyists who helped write the ACA.
So my monthly premium will go up over $250, or $3,000 annually, and my maximum annual deductible/copay cost will go up over $4,000. I could be paying up to $7,000 more per year.
I did try to see the details on plans on the Healthcare.gov website the first week of October and found there was no way to do that without creating an account, applying, and getting a response. I note that in mid-October, after media complaints, the site has added a button "SEE PLANS NOW," but this is worthless as it only gives the plan name, color and premium amount. It does not give any details such as the most important deductible and co-pay amounts. There is no way to compare plans.
I tried the Healthcare.gov site again the second week of October and was able to set up an account. But when I tried to apply, it would not take my income numbers. So I called the 800 phone number and was told they would escalate my request and someone would call me back in 48 hours. Four-and-a-half days later I did get that callback. The lady said I would not be able to apply on their website, but she would be able to do it. I gave her my data over the phone and she said my application was accepted, but there was no response from the system. She said I would get an emailed reply, but if that did not happen by the first week of November to call back.
I did receive an email stating that I had messages and to log in to Healthcare.gov. When I do that no message notice appears, and the site wants me to start the over. I called the 800 number on Nov. 2. They said that since no message notice appeared they would escalate the request and have someone call me back within 48 hours. (They should say business-day hours as they do not count the weekend.) I expect that call on Tuesday.
I expect to be eligible for a subsidy. I hope to be able to see all of the plans available to me in Michigan, either through Healthcare.gov or outside of it. I do not know how to see what non-Healthcare.gov plans are open to me. I want to do a cost/benefit analysis of all plans. My gut tells me that with a subsidy, my premium cost may be slightly less than my current one, and if I do not have any medical issues I will save a little. But if I have issues, the deductible and co-pays will quickly cost me thousands of dollars. I will go on Medicare in September 2015, so I hope my health holds until then.
The Healthcare.gov website debacle is well known. Eventually that will be fixed. Perhaps not in time for those whose plans end to enroll by the Dec. 15 deadline. But the ACA has more problems than that: Increased costs and less coverage for us responsible Americans already buying our own insurance. It seems possible that not enough healthy people will enroll and the ACA may collapse as insurers raise premiums to stay in business. I wish this could be rewritten, but given the extreme political polarization, that will not happen. It's sad that this poor rollout and supporters refusal to admit that good policies are being canceled will probably eliminate any possibility of going to the preferred single-payer system.
If I had a message for the president, it would be:
Why can't I keep my current good plan I've had for over 10 years without a subsidy?
— Stephen Hamilton
— Stephen Hamilton is a 63-year old retiree with a BA in math and an MBA from the University of Michigan. He worked in corporate management before starting his own business and was its chairman for 14 years until retiring in 1999.