Health Insurance: Our Top Priority
Health insurance is one of the major concerns when trying to achieve FIRE in the United States. Unlike many other developed nations, we have no universal health care here. Medical bills can cause significant debt for the unlucky. Before starting our transition to FIRE, our family was insured through Mr. FireDesired’s employer. Now, getting insurance on an outside marketplace is our top priority.
Get Covered New Jersey is currently NJ’s official health insurance marketplace. It was established in 2019 to build on the Affordable Care Act. It’s relatively new, but it’s our best bet at this point on getting coverage. With our reduced income, we’re hoping to qualify for subsidies to make our premiums more affordable.
About a week ago, Mr. FireDesired and I began applying for Health Insurance through their site. We’re still in the process of trying to get covered, and we’ve hit a snag. It’s been a bit frustrating.
Applying for coverage on Get Covered NJ
The application process itself took some time but was fairly straight-forward.
After creating a new account, we started an application. We entered our information, including our names, address, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, expected income and more.
When comparing plans beforehand, we found that our two kids would “most likely” qualify for the CHIP program. This would require enrolling in a separate program branded “NJ FamilyCare”. That’s fine with us. It’s just another goal to add to our list.
Part of the application process included identification verification. Applications cannot be submitted without going through this step. For us, this included uploading a picture of Mr. FireDesired’s driver’s license and waiting for someone in the state to approve it. About a week after submitting the driver’s license, we received an email stating that the identification was verified, and we could finally submit our application.
So, we logged back in. Soon after submitting our application, we were quickly granted provisional approval, pending income verification. (We have to in the future upload paystubs and another documents to prove that we’ll have the income that we expect in 2021.) After getting this provisional approval, we shopped for a health and dental plan, added them to our cart, and signed up. We even paid for the first month of our health insurance plan.
At one point yesterday, we were actually signed up for a real, live health insurance plan. We were so close, it’s sad now thinking about it. We were almost successful.
So, what happened? Only after paying for the first month did I noticed that the coverage start date began on May 1st. However, our employer subsidized coverage actually ends on March 31, leaving us with a one month gap in coverage.
I went back to the application to see if there was something that I could have entered wrong. I remember at some point being asked about the life change event that would result in the end of Mr. FireDesired’s employer insurance coverage for our family. Mr. FireDesired and I weren’t sure about whether we should enter our loss of coverage date as 4/1/2021 or 3/31/2021. We ultimately chose 4/1/2021. I suspect that may have been the reason for the new May 1st coverage start date. I wanted to see if I could go back to our application to change it to 3/31/2021.
I wasn’t able to get back to that prompt, so I couldn’t prove my theory.
However, my investigation attempts must have kicked off some new workflow. I kept getting prompts on my GetCoveredNJ dashboard to finish my application update. I couldn’t find a way to cancel the update. So, I followed the update process to completion, ultimately without changing anything in our forms. When I submitted, I was prompted to pay for the plan again.
Not the greatest customer support
At this point, I figured I needed to contact someone at Get Covered NJ through their customer support number. Over the span of a few hours, I tried 4 times to see if I could get help to cover that one month gap and avoid having to pay twice.
The first representative said flat out that it couldn’t be done. Her reasoning was that there was something significant about trying to change things on the 15th of the month. I thanked her and ended the phone call, but I wanted to call one more time to confirm with another representative.
The second representative started to say something, but before I could find out more, I heard a click. I think she accidentally hung up on me, but I won’t ever know for sure.
The third representative had a really loud drone in the background. It sounded like he was in a wind-tunnel. I could also hear random banging. In the end, I could barely hear him, and he could barely hear me, so I shouted that I’d try calling again later before hanging up.
The fourth representative was clear, energetic, and sounded like she genuinely wanted to be helpful. Finally.
She listened and seemed to understand my problem. I was put on hold for long stretches while she worked on her side with another person to get the start date changed.
However, during one of those stretches on hold, I was disconnected. When I tried to call back, I got an automated message saying that the help service center was now closed. I checked the time, and sure enough, it was 5:00 pm. So. Close.
When I logged back into my account, I could now see 5 new “previous” applications, all most likely created by the GetCoveredNJ rep. None of them were directly initiated by me, and none of them seemed to solve my problem. The section that showed my previous health insurance plans now included two other cancelled plans that I had never signed up for. I could see that the rep had tried but ultimately she failed, and I think we’re in a worse position as a result.
The actual health insurance plan that we did sign up for, which had already been paid for, now has the status of “Cancelled”. Our dental insurance has come out unscathed, but it’s of little comfort. I’m prepping myself for more early morning calls with another rep, or two, or five.
Fallback Plan: Operation Cobra
While we are still trying to get our coverage through GetCoveredNJ, we do have a fallback plan. In case of medical emergency, we have 60 days to apply for COBRA coverage, which will be retroactive to April 1st.
We expect COBRA coverage to be expensive compared to the state’s marketplace, so that’s why it’s not our first choice. Still, it’s a relief that we have options should we fail to set up coverage through the state.
Also, if the credit card charge (currently pending), does go through on the now-cancelled plan, I’ll be ready to call my credit card company to dispute.
To be continued
And so, our saga continues. Will we get coverage through our state’s official marketplace? Or, will we need to consort with the big, bad COBRA? Are calls with the credit card company inevitable? Tune in next time to find out.