Going ‘old school’ to enroll in Obamacare

Frustrated with your exchange's website? You can still enroll easily in ACA's health insurance plans over the phone, in-person, or by mail

The technological problems experienced by state-run exchange sites and Healthcare.gov – the HHS site that is operating exchanges in 36 states – have been in the news constantly since the exchanges opened on October 1. Despite the issues, you can still enroll. And you can avoid the website problems entirely if you apply by phone, in-person, or by mailing a paper application.

Healthcare.gov will allow you to browse estimated rates – not including subsidies – for plans available in your area without creating an account or providing any personal information. This feature of the site is working correctly and it only takes a minute or two to get through the basic questions necessary to generate the rates.

They are not exact however, even before subsidies, because they don’t account for age, the number of children on a family plan, or tobacco status. But they do give you a general idea of what’s available in your area, and what the average premiums are for an individual, couple or family.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: You can also compare plans and prices through healthinsurance.org.)

Healthcare.gov is projected to be working relatively well by the end of November. In the meantime, some users are still unable to get past even the initial account creation step. Using the site during off-peak hours minimizes traffic-induced problems, but starting the first week in November, developers are taking the application page offline every night from 1 a.m. until 5 a.m. EST to make improvements to the site.

Going ‘old school’

If you have difficulties setting up an account or completing the online application, you can enroll by phone, or have someone on the phone to help you go through the process of completing a paper application. HHS phone application and enrollment support is available 24/7 at 1-800-318-2596.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: You can reach a licensed broker who can help you review and purchase ACA-compliant plans in your area by calling 1-800-987-6810.)

Paper applications for the 36 states where HHS is running the exchange are available to download and print here . Paper applications will generally take more time to complete than the other options.

Fourteen states and DC are running their own exchanges: California, Connecticut, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kentucky, MarylandMassachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Some of these exchange sites are working well, but others are still experiencing problems.

Some will let you skip the income portion of the application if you know that you won’t qualify for subsidies, making the application process similar to off-exchange applications. Some states allow you to compare plans and premiums before you complete an application for subsidy eligibility. State-run exchanges offer paper and phone applications as well, if you have trouble with online enrollment.

Navigators and brokers are also available to help you complete the application process, either online, over the phone, on paper, or in person. Your state exchange site or Healthcare.gov can help you find someone who can provide in-person help in your area.

Get ready to enroll

When you’re ready to enroll, set aside at least 30 to 60 minutes to complete the process. Here’s what you’ll need to have available:

  • Names, address, social security numbers, birthdays, citizenship status and email address
  • Household size and income (A pay stub, W-2 or 2012 tax return will help make this info as precise as possible.)
  • Coverage details and price for any employer-sponsored plan available to you or anyone in your household
  • The application will ask about tobacco use, although no health questions will be asked (in stark contrast to pre-2014 individual health insurance applications, which included many questions about medical history).
  • Your doctors’ names and zip codes, so you can check the networks in your area and make sure your doctors are included
  • Payment information (bank account or credit card) to submit the first month’s premium either to the exchange or directly to the carrier once you’ve enrolled
  • You can also call the toll-free Obamacare hotline (1-800-987-6810) on healthinsurance.org to talk with a broker or agent certified to sell exchange plans in your state.

January 1 is the first available effective date for coverage, and applies to all applications submitted between October 1 and December 23. Even if you’re in a state where the exchange site isn’t working well yet, you still have plenty of time to get an application submitted for a January 1 effective date.

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