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Reporter attempts healthcare signup

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By Arin McKenna

Are you ready to go online and sign up for health insurance? Three words of advice — use the phone. Or have something on hand to throw or break other than your computer.
New Mexico did not have time to get its own system in place for signing up individuals (it does have an exchange for small business), so New Mexico residents will be signing up through healthcare.gov, at least in theory.
I began my attempt to sign up through the website a week ago. After several attempts that resulted in blank pages and error messages, I finally managed to create my profile and move on to the “verify identity” page.
I was asked such things as which company my auto loan was through (a valid question) and which of three phone numbers I had previously had (none of the above — they were all in Nevada, a state I have never even visited).
Two attempts resulted in a “failure to verify” message, with a phone number to call Equifax and an incident number (make sure you write this down).
After several attempts, I was able to reach a person at Equifax and was informed my identity had been verified. When I was again able to log on to healthcare.gov (after several tries), the verification appeared there as well.
But the ordeal was just beginning. It took several days after I created my profile to finally get onto the site to fill out an application. Nothing the live chat people suggested (available 24/7, for what it’s worth)-such as making sure the cookies were enabled-helped. Finally I tried logging on at 7 a.m. and got through.
Filling out the application seemed to be going swimmingly until I got to the section about employer provided insurance. The application warns you in advance to have such things as social security numbers and W-2 forms handy, but mentions nothing about a form your employer must provide (if they offer insurance) until you reach the “additional information” section.
I saved the information and called human resources for the form. By the time I had that information it was 9 a.m., and the website was again too overloaded to access it.
When I was able to access the site again at 7 a.m. the next morning, I tried to enter my employer insurance information, but was unable to save it. There were no error messages to tell me what I was doing wrong and live chat offered no solutions. I finally figured out I needed to click “edit” in order to save the new information. The only positive sign was that it was getting easier to access the website.
Every time I returned to the application, I found that certain information — such as my desire to be contacted by email, or the fact that I have no dependents — was not saved, so I had to go through each step again filling in the lost information.
At this point it was the weekend and access to the site was again inhibited. I finally tried at 3 a.m. this morning and was able to log on.
I again went through and filled in all the lost information. It looked as though success was at hand when I got a message that the only step remaining was to confirm my identity.
I clicked “save and continue,” eager to see what health insurance options would be available to me if I went through the exchange, and found myself back at my profile page. “Identity verified” was checked. But when I clicked on the “application and coverage” link, it said my status was “in progress.”
I logged out and returned to the site later, only to find a message that my “application was incomplete.” I found that the same information, which had not saved earlier, was still missing. Another live chat person suggested I switch to Internet Explorer instead of Firefox and attempt to complete the application. I tried that suggestion with the same results.
Another live chat person suggested I call the healthcare exchange at 1-800-318-2596. I learned then that the phone representatives could not help me complete the application I had already spent so many hours on, but would be glad to help me fill out the application from scratch.
So a word of advice to those ready to sign up for insurance on the exchange: save yourself the frustration of trying to navigate the expensive and dysfunctional website at healthcare.gov (the site reportedly cost taxpayers roughly $634 million to build) and go straight to the phone line. As soon as I can face having to go through the whole process again by phone I’ll provide an update on how that goes.