I recently moved into a new part-time position which then became a full-time position and thereupon provided benefits including health insurance. Up until that point Sheila and I had been being hit with fairly large insurance premiums every month, so I was quick to call the insurance provider and request cancellation.
I was surprised when they told me that I’d have to contact Healthcare.gov to cancel my policy. Annoying, but not the end of the world and my guess is it is an accountability measure to ensure that insurance companies don’t cancel policies of individuals without their consent.
I called Healthcare.gov (1-800-318-2596) and asked to cancel my plan effective the 19th of June. I was assured this would be done. Great! I figured I’d have a nice partial refund check sent to me in a few weeks time.
I did receive mail from the insurance company – but it wasn’t the check I had been expecting. Instead I received a bill for July’s premium.
I called Healthcare.gov back and was informed that there was a thirty-day period between when they received a cancellation and when they submitted it to the insurance company. I balked. Thirty days? This should happen (and technologically is feasible) instantaneously!
I pushed back a bit and when they stood firm I acquiesced on one condition – they provide me with documentation of the thirty-day period. At this point I was given a case worker and then I waited to hear anything. Eventually I did hear – they had rolled back my insurance cancellation date to June 30th. This meant I no longer owed the insurance company anything but also that I would not receive a refund.
Today I called in again and was told that there was a 14 day waiting period. That they were sorry I hadn’t been told this before I canceled.
I again request documentation for this new shorter period. They suggested there might be some on the website…I found it: Cancel your Marketplace plan.
I could have canceled 14 days before the actual date I wanted the cancellation to occur if I had known about this 14 day period. I’m sure this may have been tucked away in some long-winded legalese that I reviewed at some juncture or another. I’m not happy about it, but it is a real policy.
The reason I share all this is to hopefully help others avoid losing out on premium refunds or being billed after their desired cancellation date.
I’m a geek – so of course I wanted to test out the healthcare.gov site immediately after it launched – and failed. First I wasn’t able to connect to the site and eventually when I did connect to the site it would let me go through the profile process but once it attempted to verify my identity it would drop me into purgatory and leave me there – forever and ever and ever (literally, I could leave the site and come back days later and I’d still be stuck there).
I tried a couple times creating, deleting, recreating, on various days and over various months – no luck. Finally I decided to call the phone number and admit that I, an IT guy, couldn’t get the site to work for me. The phone was picked up fairly rapidly and I was led somewhat painfully through providing all the information I had already provided numerous times via the site. At the end I was given an application ID number which the representative informed me I should “enter on the site” and it would show my enrollment – but that sometimes it took up to 24 hours for the change to happen on the site.
I grimaced at the 24 hour statement. While I was on the phone I attempted to pull up the application and of course it didn’t work. I had a pretty good feeling that if it didn’t work then it wasn’t going to work in 24 hours – and I was correct. The next day it still couldn’t find my application ID and weeks and even a month or two later it still could not find the application ID.
People have been noting how few younger people have been signing up through healthcare.gov and I wonder – does the system, for whatever reason, have problems with younger individuals? I don’t mean that it is intentionally discriminatory, but that the data about older individuals is more readily available, organized differently, etc. For example, it may be that older individuals already are “known entities” to the system b/c they have utilized services like Medicare. Just a thought.
Today I tried again…I successfully walked through the process from start to finish. I still don’t like the site design (it is using funky and complex functionality to display the forms, which I found to be jerky in transitioning…) and the site still managed to leave me with a few “what do I do now?” moments…
But it is all done, I’ve signed up for the Keystone Health Plan East HMO Silver Proactive. Cost is less than $230/mo. (unless the premium changes, which I have heard happens…). This may be a decent jump for young folks in good health compared to pre-Obamacare, but for me it is a huge drop. Since I have pre-existing conditions Keystone would have charged me around $600-$700/mo. for health insurance…which was just impossible for me (and thus I have been without health insurance for over a year now).
Ohh, but the real reason I wanted to tell you about this is b/c something bad happens if you don’t have health insurance by the end of March…which I think most people know (I know a fine…and I think “open enrollment” closes which means you can’t get healthcare until the next “open enrollment” occurs – which might not be for a few months), but perhaps more important – if you want to have coverage as of April 1st you need to be enrolled in a plan by March 15th. If you are registered after March 15th, your insurance policy won’t “start” until May 1st!
According to The Daily Beast the United States Government has spent $118 million to build Healthcare.gov and another $56 million in fixing it…and based on the fact that the site isn’t expected to be fully patched for some time yet I wouldn’t be surprised if the total cost in “fixing” exceeds that of building the system in the first place.
I’m not going to take a position on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – I try to avoid speaking publicly on controversial issues…but I would like to suggest a lesson we can learn from the ACA that I don’t think will be (very) controversial across party lines – that the Government should utilize open source in the development of applications as a standard rule.
Now, I’m not particularly interested in arguing that every government project should be open source – I’ll be happy if 95-99% of them are. I understand that some people rightly or wrongly believe that using open source in sensitive areas could cause security risks. I’ll let Kevin Clough and perhaps Richard Stallman1Though Stallman would argue for free software rather than open source, but I leave that semantics argument, however important it may be, aside for the time being to focus on an area in which a relatively minor change in procedure (moving to open source development) could make a significant change in cost and efficiency. argue that point.2There are some excellent arguments on how and why open source technology can be more secure than closed source technology. Specifically, the additional security in closed source systems usually isn’t b/c the systems are actually more secure but a function of “security by obscurity” – in other words, security holes exist, no one knows about them (including those who wrote the software). But I digress… But for the vast majority of projects (Healthcare.gov for example) I can see no reason why the development should not be open source and believe there would be significant advantages to such a course of action.
Lets take a look at the specific ways in which open source development could have reduced or eliminated the issues involved in the Healthcare.gov launch:
The government (not just one department, but its entirety – e.g. the white house and congress) and the public could much more readily have seen that issues were arising, deadlines were slipping, etc. and made necessary adjustments.
It is a constant problem within organizations that individuals at higher levels make decisions without the proper knowledge base upon which to make such decisions. This can result in unrealistic timelines and even if the timelines are realistic, if unexpected issues arise and there is slippage, there is a temptation to “gloss over” the setbacks and “hope” that the timeline can still be met.
This oftentimes results in extreme pressure on those actually working on the application as they are pressured to produce more, quicker – which, especially in the case of programming – is unwise. The more you pressure programmers the more likely they are to make mistakes, to take shortcuts and the more hours you demand of them the less productive they will become and, again, the number of bugs will grow exponentially.
Open Source software is oftentimes very stable and secure because of the number of eyes looking over the code. Further, individuals who are amateurs can make small contributions that allow the programmers to development on system architecture and bigger issues instead of stomping out bugs and making aesthetic improvements.
It would make sense for the Government to take a similar approach to Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! on this front – each offers cash rewards for the discovery of issues. This is a relatively inexpensive way to get folks to pour in their energies – and individuals receive (for them) a significant compensation (hundreds to thousands of dollars – depending on the issue discovered).
The failure to properly load test the Healthcare.gov site is shocking. An open source project still needs robust methods of load testing performed by the core team – but it also benefits from other individuals and organizations implementing the application and discovering bottlenecks.
An open source, distributed team, also could have easily simulated the significant load that the site experienced upon launch – exposing the load issues early enough for remediation.
When a project is open source the code can be reused by others for all sorts of purposes. The code to this project would certainly have applications in other government projects as well as the private sector. Reuse of code can significantly streamline development timeframes and even if someone in an entirely uses a portion of code for an entirely different project in a different industry – they will oftentimes contribute their version of the function (with enhancements/bug fixes) back to the original project (resulting in better, more flexible, secure, and robust code).
I really am just spitballing here – but I have a hard time believing that the development of an open source system to perform the Healthcare.gov functions would have cost anywhere near the costs expended thus far upon this closed source system. I’d guess that $10 million could have completed the project in a more robust and timely manner via open source.
Please, let us take a lesson from this fiasco. We want more affordable healthcare – we can start by not wasting millions developing an application as a closed system which lacks robustness and stability.
I know some areas of the Government are already working with open source (and that is great) – but this needs to be a greater emphasis. Perhaps (I don’t know) there should even be some legislation that makes the (required) standard for new applications be open source and any applications which are desired as closed source systems should require review by a panel to determine if there is actual, substantial reasons for developing in a closed source system.