What to know about buying individual health insurance on HealthCare.gov

December 7, 2013

Q: I’ve tried in the past to go online to find out what my health insurance options are but gave up because it was too hard to use the Web site. Is HealthCare.gov really working better?

A. Yes. Federal health officials say the fixes they have put in place for HealthCare.gov, the main federal health-insurance portal for 36 states, are making a difference.

About 3.7 million shoppers visited HealthCare.gov from midnight Dec. 1 to noon Friday. The site remained stable — and did not crash, officials said.

The benchmarks they’re using to measure performance showed that the site held up. The average response time averaged well under 1 second, and the average error rate that consumers received was under 1 percent.

Q: Well, with all those people going on to the site, will I have the same problems I did when I tried to sign up back in October and millions were trying to log on at the same time?

A. Excellent point. Officials have put a new system in place that is supposed to deal with that. If there are too many people trying to sign on simultaneously, some will get a message telling them to try later. (Capacity is 50,000 users at the same time.)

You can leave your e-mail address and ask to be notified when the site is less crowded. You are supposed to be given a link that will put you at the head of the line.

Q: So has this new “queuing system” been used and how exactly does it work?

A: Yes. It was used twice last week — once on Monday morning, and again Tuesday morning.

During these two periods, more than 16,000 shoppers were put in the queue to request an e-mail notification. All were invited to return the same day, officials said. More than 93 percent of the people who got those e-mail invitations to return to the site did so. Officials didn’t release specifics about how successful they were in enrolling. But they were able to track their use and found “high levels of engagement.”

Q: I tried in October and November to apply online, but I’ve been stuck in an endless loop of errors. What has been done to help people like me?

A. A reset button has been added for people who get stuck. You can remove problem applications and start over with a new application. To do this, you’ll first need to log in to your account, select your current application and then choose to “remove” it. You will need to close out your Web page and log back in using your same account. You can then start a new application.

Q: Can I see what my options are without creating an application?

A. There’s a new feature that lets you “window shop.” It also allows you to see what kinds of discounts might be available on premiums and other costs.

Log on to HealthCare.gov and click “See Plans.” You have to answer a few questions, including your age, state and county where you live, and it will show you detailed information about each health-insurance plan offered in your state. The prices you see, however, won’t reflect subsidies you may qualify for based on household size and income.

Q: I actually made it all the way through and I think I signed up for coverage. What happens now?

A. Once you sign up for a plan, the exchange is supposed to send information about who you are, what kind of plan you chose and other basic information to the insurance company.

And you’ll need to pay for the first month’s premium. The insurance company is supposed to send you a bill, and you are to pay it directly to the company. After that, the insurer is supposed to send you your insurance card.

But a lot of the information being sent to the insurers is still full of errors. So just to be sure that your health plan has the correct information, federal officials are advising consumers to call the health plan they chose to double-check.

You need to pay your premium on or before Dec. 31 to have coverage by Jan. 1.

Lena H. Sun is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on health.
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