Jamie Dupree – WSB Radio

Lawmakers face familiar hurdles for health insurance

While most Americans going through the state and federal exchanges for health insurance have until later this month to buy insurance in time for the New Year, lawmakers in Congress and their staffs have one final day to navigate the Washington, D.C. health exchange on Monday – and they are running into problems that have become a familiar story line about the Obama health law.

“Finally, after many tries, got enrolled in health care exchanges,” tweeted Rep. John Barrow (D-GA).

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) told me he “signed up Friday after a hassle” – as lawmakers are not immune to the frustration that many average citizens have encountered in the exchanges.

“Used member services, still no confirmation,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) told me this weekend, sure that he had signed up for health insurance on the D.C. exchange, but not sure it was officially in the system.

Other lawmakers though reported that they had zipped right through the signup without troubles, and now had health coverage.

“I think I’ll be paying a little higher deductible,” said Rep. David Scott (D-GA), who got through on the D.C. health exchange last week and said he encountered no issues.

“It looks pretty good,” Scott said of his new insurance plan.

It was the same report from Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), who said he ran into no signup troubles on the D.C. exchange either.

“I’m paying a little bit more, a small amount more than I was paying before,” Grayson added.

One thing that many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seem to report is that they are facing higher premiums and more.

“My health insurance premium are going to double; my co-pays and deductibles tripled under Obamacare,” said Speaker John Boehner.

“I’m thrilled to death, as you can tell,” Boehner deadpanned to reporters last week.

Along with members of Congress, their staffers are also encountering problems on the D.C. exchange, which the Washington Post reported over the weekend is “grappling with hundreds of problematic applications,” as consumers have been unable to get past error messages in the system.

Congressional staffer Leslie Allen told me she signed up on December 2 – or so she thought.

“I went back to the web site to check on something to help a fellow staffer out and discovered that my approved application from 12-2 had officially been denied!” a frustrated Allen told me last week.

“More hoops to jump thru and STILL no answer!” she wrote.

An email circulated among House Republican staffers last week urged them to double check their application by calling the D.C. exchange hotline, and ask for both a verbal and written confirmation of their insurance application.

“Per DCHealthlink, if you do not do this, it will be January 1st before you receive written confirmation that you are enrolled – though they are wroking on that “quirk” and it ‘may’ be fixed within the next few days,” the e-mail read.

One interesting note is that these troubles have been occurring for members and staff even with a special help desk and in-person assistance for Capitol Hill.

And the deadline is looming on Monday.

Even with such troubles and the furor over healthcare.gov and the underlying Obama health law, there hasn’t been any rush away from the law by Democrats in the Congress – that was obvious last week as rank and file Democrats seemed much more at ease with the progress on the insurance website.

“I think members of my party always realized the important thing was to make health care available to everyone,” said Grayson, exuding confidence about the future of the Obama health law.

“I could go on and on with countless examples about how health care reform has already helped,” Grayson added.

Still, there are sticking points to be worked out, like the troubles on the “back end” of healthcare.gov, where the feds say that error rates of 10% still exist in getting enrollment data to insurance companies – but that’s better than the 25% in October and November.

And at the state level, things aren’t working smoothly in every state that set up its own exchange.

That was plain to see last Friday night in Maryland, as the director of that state’s exchange was forced out of her job in a furor over low enrollment numbers – only 3800 people have signed up so far for private health insurance.

It also didn’t help that exchange chief Rebecca Pearce went to the Cayman Islands for a vacation during Thanksgiving week – and couldn’t evidently be reached by phone, email or text – as state officials were still scrambling to fix a website that was barely working when I checked it the Monday after Thanksgiving.