EXCLUSIVE: Obamacare state enrollment Magical Mystery Tour

Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, October 2, 2013 – With the Federal government shutdown brouhaha remaining in the media spotlight, it was easy to forget that hell, Harry Reid, or high water, the Obamacare health exchanges opened for business on October 1, more or less.

Try as they might, Republicans will likely not be able to halt implementation of this ill-advised and costly bureaucratic juggernaut. They can only slow it down or modify it around the edges, assuming President Obama will condescend to take a short break from negotiating with Iran’s mullahs to pay a little attention to his own country. Between mandatory rounds of golf.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, October 1, we decided to engage in an informal close encounter with the various Obamacare websites covering all fifty U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and assorted territories that many Americans are likely not even aware we still possess in spite of the post-colonialist in the White House.

Alex Gonzalez, left, a volunteer with Enroll America, an allegedly nonpartisan nonprofit encouraging people to sign up for Obamacare as well as training plan “navigators.” (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Our survey was random, unscientific, but close to a typical first experience for any average, garden variety user looking either to see how bad the damage will be to his or her bank account starting in January 2014, or what benefits the various metallic plan levels (bronze, silver, gold, lawrencium) might entail for the costs involved.

Our initial foray took into account only the availability of pricing, enrollment, and qualification information on the sites. Available pricing information was generally only accessible after you entered your personal info. Fair enough. But we were not about to undertake typing individual entries into the information blocks listed on 50+ entities.

SEE RELATED: To blunt Ted Cruz, HHS releases Obamacare premium estimates

BTW, pricing vs. benefits is something we’ll explore in a future article. So are the motley crew of state “navigators,” individuals or contract firms who’ve allegedly been drilled in the latest Obamacare info, the better to guide you through the healthcare maze. Some states have given their navigators quirky names. (See Kentucky.)

We’ve broken down our Obamacare 101 Magical Mystery Tour Website Survey into three sections: Federal, State, and Territorial. The majority of states wisely, if cynically, opted out of running their own exchanges to save money when the full brunt of this massive program’s administrative costs will devolve to each state after initial Federal subsidies phase out later in this decade.

Remaining states will run their own programs, so each gets a short paragraph in the state section, including Utah, which is running a unique hybrid program and the District of Columbia which is, well, the District of Columbia.

Territories seem to be somewhat on their own, at least at this point as we’ll explain.

SEE RELATED: Obamacare: Historic benefit or fiscal black hole?

We conducted our survey between 7:00 and 8:30 p.m. EDT on October 1. Waiting until later in the day gave all the sites plenty of time to get up and running, a task that, as we have read, some had a little difficulty accomplishing.

Information provided below is accurate insofar as our random walk is concerned. Opinions and associated snarkiness are provided by this columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of those in Congress who knew we’d love Obamacare before they voted on the legislation they never read.

Comments and factual emendations to our survey are actually welcome, provided they’re not lobbed at us via the usual foul-mouthed troll seminars run by compassionate left-wing hate groups.

In all nonpartisan candor, nearly everyone is at sea on the details of Obamacare at this point, even if they’re eagerly waiting to enroll. Citizens, we suspect, will ultimately need to lend a hand to others to get through to the other side of what promises to be a sea of frustration. An added detraction: enrollment commences without full computer security and with program puzzle pieces still incomplete, something neither the Administration nor the media will tell you about.

If your attempt to contact the appropriate exchange fails, which it often will at least in these early days, good old-fashioned phone numbers are also listed on each site. But good luck in getting through. We haven’t sampled phone messages or elevator music on any of the sites, so if you run into either in your own journey, please feel free to share.

Our Obamacare information and enrollment expedition was conducted on a relatively aged iMac running the current Mac OS and connected to the net on the second highest-speed offering currently available on Verizon’s FiOS, a service we’ve generally found to be quite reliable and accurate.

So Click It or Ticket, let’s jump in our virtual healthcare roadster. Here we go:

States that opted for the Federal government to administer their exchanges

To avoid the eventual financial burden (unfunded mandate) involved with managing their own Obamacare insurance exchanges, the majority of states actually chose to have the Federal government essentially run this program for them, although the various state insurance exchanges may and likely will offer varying plan choices.

Smiling faces about on the Federal portal as elsewhere. Nobody hates Obamacare. This happy blue ball may best symbolize user hope and frustration as they attempted, and failed, to access the Fed portal on Opening Day, October 1. (Wikipedia)

Residents of these states must go directly to the Federal site, HealthCare.gov, and click on their individual state in the available dropdown menu. You are then whisked to a page that will provide further instructions.

States involved are:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois (shocker—can’t what’s left of the Daley Machine run its own exchange?), Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

(If we somehow missed a state, let us know.)

To test the system, we started by choosing our home state of Virginia to “apply now.”

We were immediately beamed over to “Health Insurance Marketplace” which issued the following instructions:

“Please Wait.”

“We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we’re working to make your experience here better. Please wait here until we send you to the login page. Thanks for your patience!”

Every state portal we tried received the same message, mainly because it was beginning by accessing the same central information page. Good luck with that.

Word from the Government is essentially that their computer system was overwhelmed with the massive barrage of initial requests. Who knew this would happen? If you actually have managed to get into the Federal portal for your state, let us know. FWIW, this might be even tougher today, given that government workers are supposed to be on extended holiday today, right?

Individual State Exchanges

A number of states did, in fact, choose to run their own exchanges operating under Federal rules. The Feds will subsidize administration of these states for a time, then wean them off the subsidies at which point, they’ll have to fend for themselves. Read “higher taxes” and/or “higher premiums.” This will become interesting as the subsidies begin to drop off in the out-years.

Each state exchange has its own website, appearance, and unique approach to information access and enrollment. Every one of them prominently displays the faces of individuals whose happy, beatific smiles are so extensive you fear their faces will crack. Clearly, everyone in the following states has or will achieve perfect joy under Obamacare. There were no unhappy people portrayed on any of the websites, even including the multi-state portal that’s run by the Feds.

Unconfirmed reports claim that even the Mona Lisa was overjoyed when the Opening Day of Obamacare came to pass. (Wikimedia)

In alphabetical order by state, this is what we experienced as we attempted to access each site:

“Covered California” is up and running and loaded with pictures of happy, happy, happy young people who obviously haven’t calculated their premiums yet.

Connect for Health Colorado. Open for business, despite earlier reports the site would have trouble getting up. More smiling faces, implying that Colorado’s Obamacare products will give you a Rocky Mountain High.

Health Access CT. Even this state prefers its abbreviation to being forced to spell out its proper name. That said, the site appears to be open for business. Our proof? More ecstatic people.

DC Health Link. The site was up last night, but the District government announced a delay last week in its ability to actually process and approve applications via computer. Likely, this is day to day.

Hawaii Health Connector. Apparently up and running but very slow, meaning this Connector wasn’t Connecting very well last night. Aloha-style happiness abounds, however.

Your Health Idaho

People on the Idaho exchange site are ecstatically happy, too, despite not actually being able to use the site to enroll. (Flickr via Wikimedia)

appears to be up and running, complete with more happy people and a smiling Governor C L “Butch” Otter, too. So many, many friendly faces on this site just make you want to move to the state that helped make Mr. Potato Head internationally famous. But surprise! In spite of all the bells and whistles, you can’t actually use the site. As HealthCare.gov cheerily notes, “For Open Enrollment this year, instead of the Your Health Idaho website, you’ll use HealthCare.gov to apply for coverage, compare plans, and enroll. In other words, while Idaho didn’t want to go the Federal route, the state was unprepared to go it alone this year. So they’re using the Feds in 2014 and/or until they can run their own show, at which time you’ll likely have to enroll all over again.

Kentucky’s Healthcare Connection (KYNECT). Apparently open for business, with loads of cartoon pictures of happy, happy thoroughbred Kentuckians. Site is still looking, apparently, for “navigators,” those government-contracted and trained “helpers” who are cleverly re-named here as friendly, down-home “kynectors.” Get it? So cute and friendly. Mitch McConnell, call your office. For a reality check, check out your first January 2014 pay stub.

Maryland Health Connection. More smiling faces. But try to click in and—oh-oh!—you get a pop up that reads: “We are currently experiencing a high volume of traffic on MarylandHealthConnection.gov and we want to make the experience as positive for everyone as possible. Please check back later. We apologize for the inconvenience.” Who knew this site would experience volume issues? For us, at least, a “positive experience” would have involved actually getting through to get some business done. This site that didn’t work is brought to you by The People’s Republic of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, Governor and 2016 Presidential hopeful.

Massachusetts Health Connector. Its own plan in its own world, apparently attempting to put Romneycare and Obamacare into a Waring Blender, transforming the whole shebang into a healthcare frappe oozing with socialist goodness. Different deadlines, short-year enrollments make this site unique, but we guess you have to live there to parse this. At least Massachusetts residents, unlike most other state residents, are already experienced in socialized medicine and likely know what to expect. Less happy faces here but still voting “Present.”

Minnesota’s MNsure appears to be open for business. But American Indians, who will get special treatment under this state plan, apparently need not apply. For now. Seems that this particular piece of the computer puzzle doesn’t function yet, so American Indians resident in the State of 10,000 snowdrifts are encouraged to “wait a week” before applying. This is obviously discrimination so we should expect an avalanche of opportunistic class action lawsuit driven by a bevy of underemployed attorneys. Minnesota navigators are called “assisters” but many are still not officially qualified, so their availability remains a question. On the plus side, phone lines are open late, until 10 p.m. CDT today through October 4. Your business is important to us.

Nevada Health Link seems to be up and running and taking orders. We wonder if Harry Reid and staff shop here to get their extra special Congressional discount that we plebeians can’t have.

New Mexico’s BeWellNM is up and running. But not really. “The BeWellNM website can give you information on local events and resources available in your state, including application assistance. For Open Enrollment this year, instead of the BeWellNM website, you’ll use HealthCare.gov to apply for coverage, compare plans, and enroll.” Subcontractor penalties, anyone? New Mexico joins Idaho as another state that wants to run its own show but needs training wheels in 2014.

New York’s NYStateOfHealth is up and running. Kind of. “Due to overwhelming interest in the NY State of Health - including 2 million visits in the first 2 hours of the site launch - the health exchange is currently having log in issues. We encourage users who are unable to log in to come back to the site later when these issues will be resolved.” And when might “later” be, Governor Mario Cuomo, likely 2016 Democrat presidential hopeful? BTW, a hat tip to the New York computer programmer/bureaucrat who actually used and spelled the term “log in” correctly.

Oregon’s Cover Oregon. Now open for business, sort of, assuming you have no interest in enrolling online. “Online enrollment is coming soon! Sign-up to receive an email notification when it’s available,” promises the site. Wonder when that is? Perhaps the state gave their computer-programming contract to the cast of “Portlandia” this year. Keep Oregon Weird.

Rhode Island HealthSource RI. Appears to be up and running, with functions and calculators available. Lots of smiling senior citizens on every page, at least in the graphic rotation we looked at. Funny, though. On the home page, Spanish instructions preceded the English language headers. Just sayin’.


Utah seems to have tailored its exchange response perfectly, earning a big yellow happy face. (Wikipedia)

appears to be a unique case. Many residents will simply use the Healthcare.gov site to enroll since Utah opted out of opening their own state exchange. More or less. In a one-off twist, Utah small businesses that qualify for the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP, gotta love those state government wags) will need to access a different site called “Avenue H.” A quick click reveals that Avenue H is indeed open for business and apparently exists to help smooth the insurance path for Utah small businesses, hopefully to avoid the kind of longstanding coverage and cost issues that have always plagued the little guys nationwide. Only in Utah.

Vermont Health Connect seems to be up and running and open for business. But getting through on the main link took us a l-o-o-ng time.

In Washington State, the Washington Healthplanfinder is where you go. The site is apparently operational, but make sure you have a book or Kindle handy. Pageloads are slow, slow, slow.

U.S. Territories

A lot of Americans forget that the U.S. still has a number of entities whose residents are U.S. citizens but whose place of residence is not formally a state. Washington D.C. is one of these for example, but it’s considered a Federal District that’s neither a state nor a territory, though it’s treated in many respect like a state, which is why we listed DC in the state listings above.

The following listings, however, are our actual current territories. Obamacare is coming to them, too, but the exact route seems more circuitous for whatever reason.

Here’s a quick rundown of Territory status with regard to Obamacare registration:

Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa: No response and no apply now button.

Guam: no link, no help, “Check with your territory’s government offices to learn more about health coverage options.” Do that, and let us know what you find out.

Too bad, Puerto Rico: Fed site says “If you live in Puerto Rico, you’re not eligible to use the Marketplace to apply for health insurance. Check with your territory’s government offices to learn about health coverage options.”

“If you live in the Virgin Islands, you’re not eligible to use the Marketplace to apply for health insurance. Check with your territory’s government offices to learn about health coverage options.”

No smiling faces here.

We’d appreciate any input from residents of the above territories who can explain to us where they’ll have to go and what they’ll have to do to get fully involved in mandatory Obamacare fun.

As for everyone else: Call the law offices of Nasty, Brutish, and Short* right now. Operators are waiting to take your call. (Our computers are down.)

Final Note

Obviously, our survey and comments aren’t exactly nonpartisan in nature. That said, even the most ardent Democrats and Obamacare supporters are bound to get wrapped around the axle during this complicated initial enrollment, mainly because no one has ever done this before. So by all means, please share your own experiences with the various exchange mechanisms whether online or via that good old-fashioned and still reliable landline telephone.

Whether you’re for this coverage or against it, it’s here and you’ll have to make a choice. Let us know whether these sites help make that process easier, harder, or downright impossible. Collectively (hate that word) you might actually help some of the clunkier health exchange sites to improve the research and registration experience.

   *Hat tip to The American Spectator for this referral.


Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business

Follow Terry on Twitter @terryp17


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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, movies and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was formerly the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2009) before moving online with Communities in 2010.  



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