Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ain't No Such Thing as Private Insurance Any Longer - Part 2

Well, I didn't expect a Part 2 to my Ain't No Such Thing as Private Insurance Any Longer post, but here I am.

I was told by the GOHEALTH agent that by 15 business days, I should be getting my health care insurance policy and first premium from UnitedHealthCare. That's this week. But nada, nothing.  So I called GOHEALTH to speak to my "agent".  After a number of transfers, I was connected directly to a Customer Service Rep at GOHEALTH since I had already "selected" a policy. I could no longer speak to my "agent" directly. The Rep told me that I should be hearing from United and to call them.

Ok, fine, that makes sense. I had their phone number. Calling it on Thursday this week, was redirected from "policy status" department to "billing" department since they take care of ALL Health Care MarketPlace applications. Go figure. Check.

At UnitedHealthCare billing, I spoke to Jared who checked my information to see if UHC had received my "application" from the MarketPlace, but no, I wasn't in any UHC systems, yet. Jared was concerned that I hadn't heard anything in more than 15 days and assured me he would 1) contact their "operations" department, the only UHC people who can and do interact with the MarketPlace, and 2) he would call me back with status on Friday (next day) at noon. He even said I could call back and request him personally in case I didn't hear from him. Wow, I'm impressed with the assertiveness shown here by Jared.  

So I waited until 2PM on Friday and no call from Jared. Fine, I'll call him back at the UHC phone number and menu through to the "billing" department.  Reaching them, I talk to a nice lady I'll call "Linda" as I could barely understand her over the poor telecom system they use at UHC.  I asked for Jared and she said that there was no "Jared" in her area/building/department, and that I likely got switched to a different call center. Great. I have to explain EVERYTHING all over again.

But Linda seemed more equipped to check their "files" for my application. She just had to download and uncompress a number 500MB spreadsheet files. they receive from the MarketPlace.  Yikes. This took 20 minutes, all the while she is talking under her breadth and humming tunes into the telecom mike. Sheesh.

I stuck with this while she checked all the files and my application never showed up. She was as frustrated as I was by this point and transferred me to "Joe" who works in her "escalation" group. 

I RE-EXPLAINED everything to Joe and he did a similar search of the files from the MarketPlace, and I wasn't surprised when he told me that he too could not locate my application. But this time, Joe seemed to be familiar with this outlier process and suggested I wait until July 22 which is 30 days from my original application just to give the MarketPlace more time to deliver my application to UHC. He said he would call me back on July 22 regardless of the outcome and we would go from there.

I asked him if I could just sign up with him right there, but he said no, until he receives my information from the MarketPlace, he could not sign me up. Once they have it, he could do everything, then: activate me, take my payment, provide ID cards, etc.

So I asked him further, that if he was waiting for information from the MarketPlace, perhaps shouldn't I call them to find out the status from their end. He assured me that it was my right to do so, but he didn't want me to waste my time, etc., and that I should let the process proceed as designed.

Hmmm. So Joe was going to call me back in the future, hoping that something will magically happen in the meanwhile. I wasn't very confident. I asked him for a contact number, but he said he couldn't give me a direct line into his area as he is not an end customer support person. He would give me his email address, which he did. I could email him to check status, etc., before he calls me back. So that's how I left it with Joe.

Next stop, the Health Care MarketPlace hot line. Yes, friends, this is the dreaded OBAMACARE, Black Hole of Calcutta, exchange. I wanted to avoid this entirely by using private resource to sign up with a private insurance company, but alas, that is no longer possible. Private healthcare is ObamaCare. End of story.

So here goes. I call the number and step through some simple voice based phone menus, and no, NO HABLA ESPANOL, so no prima dos, I am quickly connected with Valarie. 

Valarie speaks beautiful English on a super clear (like HDTV) audio line. She asks me a few questions and takes my HCMP Application ID number, which GOHEALTH had given me on June 22, and also which a confirmation form letter from the government HCMP I had received last week provided.

Within 30 seconds, Valarie confirms my application to the MP was received on 6/22. She says she also sees the plans I was eligible for with UHC, even identifying the exact plan I wanted to apply for. BUT NO! No healthcare insurance plan application was submitted. GOHEALTH had NOT submitted anything on my behalf that day, contrary to what I was told by the original agent. I did not have any information in the system being sent to UHC. Nothing. Nada. Waiting until 7/22 would not have fixed anything.

I was completely rattled by this time, but Valarie said she could just go ahead and submit my insurance application right then and there. I didn't have to provide any additional information. After doing so, she provided me a confirmation number, and said that within 7 days, UHC should have my information. She even suggested calling them on Wednesday next week to see if it were transferred by then.

So I'll ping Joe via email on Wednesday and ask him to check to see if everything is in from the MarketPlace. I'll keep pestering him for status.

I have to say I was disappointed with GOHEALTH and frustrated with UnitedHealthCare, but the Health Care MarketPlace seemed like a breeze. But then again, Murphy was a pessimist.  Until I have an invoice in my hand I won't call this done.

This is what happens when the Government creates a one-size fits all solution and firmly stands in the middle between the consumer (me) and the producer (UHC). We are at the mercy of the middle to get anything done.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Ain't No Such Thing as Private Insurance Any Longer

Well here I am, after almost 18 months of retirement at age 60, running out of COBRA health insurance coverage for my wife and I from my previous employer. So what to do?

I could pick up coverage for my wife and I from my retirement company (one who pays me a small pension) which is a good, solid UnitedHealthCare 80/20 plan for $1720 a month. Ouch. My COBRA coverage costs only $1030 a month, but we are only allowed 18 months. Damn.

That's a lot of bucks. So let me see what I can do in the "private" insurance arena.

First I examined plans on the HEALTHCARE.GOV site without creating a profile. I want to stay as far away from the Obamacare monstrosity as possible. I want nothing to do with them. I don't want any of my information contained within the website.

After having dozens and dozens of plans displayed, at various levels of premium/deductible/max out of pocket, I gave up, but did see that plans range from well below $1720/month to well above. So now I had a range.

My current plan is also with UnitedHealthCare and it covers all the doctors we currently use, so that's the place to start. I went to the UnitedHealth web site and poked the find me a plan button. That brought up a more generic "find a health care plan" website that asked for general information like name, age, state, and phone number. I filled it all in and waited.

Almost immediately I got a robot call to verify I had requested a health insurance quote and whether I was ready to speak to a broker right then and there!  I indicated this was legit request and no, call me back the next day.

Which they did. The same robot called me asking the same questions of being legit and wanting to talk to agent right away. I indicated yes on both questions and was switched over to a human.  A human "dispatcher" verified my info and switched me to an agent. The agent picked up and I couldn't understand a word she was saying. It was like "ack ack, yack" from the movie Mars Attacks!  I hung up and figured the cycle would start over.

Which it did. This time, however, I was connected to a licensed health care agent (she worked for the broker GO HEALTH). She asked about our doctors and medications and did a search and guess what, UnitedHealthCare was the only carrier who covered all our doctors, go figure. I wanted to buy UHC in the first place.

Anyway, she quoted 3 plans: Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Seems all "private" health insurances are squeezed into these three categories. This basically means they cover 70%, 80%, and 90% of health care costs with the consumer covering the 30%, 20%, and 10% remaining. This is similar to the employer insurance I've had for years. Most of the time, they were 80/20 plan or "Gold" in this model.

Where they differ is in their deductibles (first dollars paid by consumer) and max-out-of-pocket (total dollars paid by consumer).

After a week of thinking about the options, I called my "agent" back and decided on the Silver plan as it was $1438 a month with a deductible and MOOP similar to my current COBRA coverage.

All along the way I kept asking the agent if this transaction was "private" and not "part of Obamacare", and whether my information was kept out of the HEALTHCARE.GOV website. I was assured, yes, indeed, this was private and dealing with GO HEALTH and UnitedHealthCare strictly.

Right. During the application process, the agent had to read three boilerplate statements that I had to agree to.  One was that in the event I needed to make changes in my policy (child born, family member death, loss of income, etc.), I needed to call a special number to affect the change. That number is 800-318-2596. This was neither GO HEALTH nor UnitedHealthCare. I googled the number and guess what? The number is for the HEALTHCARE.GOV Health Insurance Marketplace. The very place I didn't want any of my information.

What's that all about?

My "private" health insurance broker (GO HEALTH) signing me up for "private" health insurance carrier (UnitedHealthCare) is entangled with the damn government health insurance marketplace.

Why do I need to call them and not GO HEALTH or UnitedHealthCare?

I'm not happy, but this seems to be what's happened. All private health insurance is now entangled with ObamaCare. No such thing as private insurance.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

How To Chase Your Cable Customer Away By A Thousand Paper Cuts

Dear Bright House Cable Provider,

We have to tell you how pleased we are with our new cable TV and Internet service. We now have the best looking HD picture, with no digital dropouts or lost signals, and the Internet is blazingly fast.

Unfortunately for you, we had to move to Verizon FIOS to achieve this multi-media bliss. We were a long time subscriber to your cable service. It would have been our ten year anniversary in a few months, but alas, we couldn't wait. You see, you finally broke our poor camel's back with the last straw, and so like any good consumer with options, we exercised them and moved to your competitor's product.

When we tweeted our decision to change cable providers, we copied your @BrightHouse handle. The service rep there tried their best to "help" us, but it was too late, much too late. We couldn't recount to them the myriad of straws that lead to this decision in just 140 characters at a time. But never fear, we will share them with you here in all their glorious detail.
  • The final straw came about as the result of repeated Internet interruptions which we will get to in the next item. This last straw is CUSTOMER SUPPORT! We called your customer support on a Saturday morning after what was the umpteenth Internet interruption. We were able to navigate through the maze of verbal phone menus to actually talk to a live person. We asked them why our Internet kept going out and our cable modem recycling itself. We were promptly told that they could NOT in anyway interrogate the modem to see why it was recycling. We challenged this. We have worked with prior tech support and they could easily see the modem status and make changes to various settings. All she could "offer" us was the much dreaded "SEND SOMEONE OUT" response. You know the response, where they send a tech out to try and catch an intermittent problem, only to tell you NO TROUBLE FOUND. Thanks a lot!

    But while we were debating the next steps, the phone connection was dropped. We waited 10 minutes for the support person to call us back. No call, so we attempted to contact support again, but THIS TIME, we were hopelessly lost in the verbal maze of the phone menu system. Over and over again, we were told to "try to ask in a different way" for what we needed done. And done we were. Over and done. No more. That's it. The camel had died. We drove over to the Verizon FIOS store.

  • As mentioned above we had experienced a rash of Internet interruptions. My wife and I keep regular hours "playing" on the Internet. That Friday evening, my wife and her "team" were playing World Of Warcraft and running "raids". Three times in about 90 minutes, she turned to me and asked if the Internet was still up. I poked the browser link to BayNews9 website (great site by the way) and yes, it was not responding. I looked down under my desk where the cable modem sits and sure enough, all the lights flashed out and it started its relighting dance, top light flashes then goes steady, next light flashes then steady, and so on until all lights are solid and the middle two turn blue. 3 times in 90 minutes. This is not much of a big deal for me. I just wait until the modem comes back and then click refresh to bring up the blog page I might be reading, but for my wife, this is catastrophic. She is in the middle of game play. She has to log back in, reconnect, and HOPE she is not dropped out of the raid she was in. Very frustrating for her, indeed.

    So, slow forward to the next morning, the last straw morning, and sure enough, within a single hour's time, we lost Internet twice. Who-du-thunkit? So I called technical support, but you know how that ended. The last straw dropped.

  • Ok, enough about Internet problems. It's the Internet. Bit happens. Surely the "cable" company can provide TV that is satisfactory. It's only TV. What can go wrong? Plenty.

  • The worse problem with our cable TV service was intermittent loss of picture. In the prior release of the cable box software, this would present itself as a large pattern of pixelation squares in an otherwise frozen image on the screen. In this latest set of cable box software, the image freezes, but the audio continues. This happens on various channels at various times with no rhyme or reason. It even happens during DVR recorded programs (which is the bulk of our TV viewing). There is even a technical phrase for this issue: "digital dropouts". Occasionally, rarely, entire channels would be unavailable for viewing, but again, this was rare. And how are we supposed to get this problem fixed? This seems to be a signal strength or feed issue. Oh, ya, they'll SEND SOMEONE OUT. Right.

  • The next set of problems was with the actual cable box itself. Our first box had a hard drive crash and so the SOMEONE-OUT guy brought us a new one. Our entire DVR schedule was lost, and we had to reconstruct it by hand. This was not fun. The "new" (refurbished) box worked mostly, but it had its annoying quirks. Two things. About every 30 days or so, we'd lose audio completely when viewing live programming. Sometimes it would cut in and out like they were talking in the movie WHEN MARS ATTACKS ("ack ack ack"), but mostly it would cut out completely. This required pulling the plug and power cycling the cable box (hard reboot). Sometimes we'd have to do this twice in the same week, and then it would be good for awhile. 

  • The other cable box problem had the same solution. Power cycle the damn box. This problem was during DVR playback. About every other month, after selecting a program to play back (recall, this is the bulk of our dedicated TV viewing), the entire cable box would freeze up showing black screen with the playback progress bar frozen at the bottom of the screen. Whenever this happened, we'd power cycle the box and then afterwards, we could go back to the DVR playback section and play our intended program.

    This was a nuisance, but the only alternative for these cable box problems was to have our "old" cable box replaced again, and we'd have to start over rebuilding our DVR recording list.
  • The last issue is more a business process problem. It seems our neighbor had problems consistently paying their cable bill. And so you sent out a technician out to "cut their service", but in the process of doing so, YOU TURNED OFF OUR SERVICE INSTEAD. This happened to us not once, but TWICE over the past ten years. Both times the tech on the ladder cut the service and boogied out of the neighborhood before we could reach his truck to suggest he turned off the wrong customer. So we had to call "tech support" to have our paid up service turned back on. The first time you made us wait until the next day before you restored our service. Luckily the second time, we were able to shame your tech support to get someone out right away to fix YOUR MISTAKE. We even requested a follow up by management to fix this business process issue so that it would never happen again. Our concern went up the hierarchy with promises of follow ups and fixes, but eventually it reached a level where it floated out of sight and out of your collective mind. We never felt this problem was satisfactorily resolved. It remained a lingering doubt.
So, you see, this has been a long and painful journey from dedicated customer to being chased away by a thousand paper cuts of flaky service: cable TV, Internet, and customer support.

Yours no longer,

Former Subscriber