Fran Britton is pretty sure she has health insurance.
Thursday, Britton spent a few hours at her physical therapist, wondering which insurance plan would cover her visit.
Before Jan. 1, she had coverage through an individual insurance plan that cost $1,065 per month.
But as of Wednesday, she should have had coverage through a plan she bought for $821 per month through the federal health insurance marketplace.
However, her insurance company charged her for both plans. Even after a few phone calls, she has yet to clear up the confusion.
“I waited on hold for 3 1/2 hours on New Year's Eve,” she said. “I was on hold, or talking to someone, or being put back on hold, or talking to someone ... By the time I hung up, 3 1/2 hours had gone by, and I knew absolutely nothing more than I knew the day before — except that they said, ‘Oops! It looks we've already taken out your January 2014 payment for your old policy.'”
Britton is one of hundreds of Oklahomans who have enrolled in private health insurance plans through the federal health insurance marketplace.
The federal marketplace was created through the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and serves as a website where people can buy private health insurance plans and see prices of those plans online.
States had an option to create their own marketplaces, but Gov. Mary Fallin chose to take the federal route.
Between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30, about 1,600 Oklahomans selected private health insurance plans through the federal marketplace.
Wednesday marked the first day of coverage for many residents. Oklahomans will need to enroll by Jan. 15 and pay their premiums by Jan. 31 to have coverage start Feb. 1. If they enroll on Jan. 16 or later, their coverage would start March 1.
Britton isn't alone in her struggles to acquire coverage.
Matt Hensley, president of Cover Oklahoma, said some of his clients have had trouble getting through to their insurance carriers to pay for their policies.
Initially, some insurance companies had only two options for new enrollees to pay for their policies, either mailing the payment in or paying over the phone.
“It's an unprecedented and unpredictable time in our industry, and I think it's fair to point out that a lot of these insurance carriers didn't have a lot of final regulations or guidance on the web piece and how they were going to connect you to HealthCare.gov until a couple of days before enrollment began,” Hensley said. “There was a delay in Washington, and that has created a little bit of a learning curve for the private market, and the best we can do is react to that.”
In mid-December, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asked health insurance companies to allow people until Jan. 10 to pay for their insurance premiums for coverage that begins Jan. 1.
Blue Cross spokeswoman Lauren Jones said the company agreed to extend that deadline and has expanded payment options for members, including using a debit card, credit card, MoneyGram, online and through the mail.
The company has seen a 300 percent increase in call volume from Oct. 1 to Dec. 1. Jones said she couldn't provide an average wait time because each member's wait time depends on several factors.
Blue Cross added 500 customer advocates to help answer member questions and extended its call center hours to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and limited hours on the weekends, she said.
Aetna spokeswoman Cynthia Michener said the company has seen an uptick leading up to the enrollment deadline, and all call volumes have been high, not just for the exchanges. Michener said she could not provide specific numbers.
It's an unprecedented and unpredictable time in our industry, and I think it's fair to point out that a lot of these insurance carriers didn't have a lot of final regulations or guidance on the web piece and how they were going to connect you to
HealthCare.gov until a couple of days before enrollment began. There was a delay in Washington, and that has created a little bit of a learning curve for the private market, and the best we can do is react to that.”
president of Cover Oklahoma