Say what you will about the long wait times, rampant errors, and frozen screens, the human face of Healthcare.gov is committed to serving its constituency.
I’m not talking about Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius or CGI Federal executive Cheryl Campbell. No, I’m talking about Liliana, Summer, Patricia, and Erain — some of the customer service reps who handle Healthcare.gov inquiries.
I spent four hours chatting with these lovely ladies and other faceless navigators on Wednesday to address common concerns about the decidedly user-un-friendly website. I don’t have any concerns, so I made them up. Here’s what I found.
You know that serving us is their top priority because every webchat begins the same way.
[12:59:10 pm]: Welcome! You're now connected to Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat.
Thanks for contacting us. My name is Liliana. To protect your privacy, please don't provide any personal information, like Social Security Number, or any other sensitive medical or personal information.
[1:00:06 pm]: Billy
Hi Liliana, my name's Billy, Social Security # 742-59-*****, I have hemorrhoids.
[1:00:44 pm]: Billy
You guys really cut to the chase
[1:02:17 pm]: Liliana
Sir Im gonna ask you to please not put any personal information on this chat please.
She told me to log off the chat to delete my information. I thanked my sage navigator and received a genuine "Your welcome."
Summer spent 35 minutes patiently listening as I peppered her with questions about the coverage disparity between Virginia’s catastrophic HMO coverage and catastrophic PPO coverage, as well as whether pregnancy was a suitable enough catastrophe to warrant coverage. She explained the ins and outs of the plans but could tell there was something else on my mind.
"Do you have any other questions that I can help you with?" she repeated several times in the first 17 minutes of the conversation.
[12:17:09 pm]: Bill
Actually, a few small ones
[12:18:01 pm]: Bill
More semantics than anything else. My wife and I aren't too worried about getting pregnant. Kids would just be such a burden right now, especially with all our other children.
[12:19:23 pm]: Bill
They're not exactly children per se. They're 5 Pembroke Welsh Corgis.
[12:20:37 pm]: Bill
They fill us with so much more joy than we ever expected. Which makes them alot like children in some respects.
[12:21:23 pm]: Bill
We got so excited for our premium savings, because Dutchess, Derrick, and Brent all have pre-existing conditions
[12:22:12 pm]: Bill
Dutchess especially because she has progressive retinal atrophy and corneal ulceration.
[12:22:37 pm]: Bill
so we were wondering if the exchange plans also covers vision
[12:22:55 pm]: Summer
Pembroke Welsh Corgis i dont know that we cover
My heart dropped. I tried to explain.
[12:23:32 pm]: Bill
I mean, we already claim as dependents on our taxes, so I don’t really see what the issue is
[12:24:28 pm]: Bill
They're so full of life, Dutchess especially, considering her issues. We just know that if she could only see better, our family could be whole again.
[12:25:00 pm]: Bill
She wandered into the street the other day and almost got hit by a car because she couldn’t see it.
[12:25:19 pm]: Bill
We don’t want to burden the hospital system with emergency room visits. We'd much rather nip this in the bud
Wasn’t the entire point of Obamacare to put an end to discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions, to do away with persistent emergency room visits? This argument must have struck a chord with Summer. After 47 seconds of silence, she informed me, "We are available to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
[12:36:33 pm]: Bill
Will you include her in your prayers tonight? …
[12:37:24 pm]: Summer
Yes no problem, will do!!
[12:37:37 pm]: Bill
Thanks so much.
[12:38:02 pm]: Bill
Gaia Bless You!!!!!
Not only are the navigators empathetic, they’re knowledgeable, too. I had MSNBC blaring in my head as I picked the brains of the real-life people behind Healthcare.gov and noticed some striking similarities.
Customer service reps and pundits share the unique ability to stick to the script in the face of questions beyond their knowledge. Those populating my computer and television screens never deviated from their talking points.
Take Patricia, for example, who handled an all-out assault from me with poise. When confronted with my predicament—I had awoken from a six-year coma "ONLY to find that THE United States of America had been taken over by SOCIALISM"—she gracefully responded, "I apologize for the inconvenience. How may I assist you today?"
I was interested in how Obamacare would leave my seven great-grandchildren mired in swelling debts. The unflappable Patricia offered "to send [me] some information on the Affordable Care Act." She followed with talking points ripped straight from "Now with Alex Wagner."
[4:29:11 pm]: Patricia
In March 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. The law provides you with greater consumer protections, new coverage options, and increased consumer information. The health care law puts you in control of your health care and may help to lower your health insurance costs. One of the biggest provisions of the law is the creation of a new Health Insurance Marketplace to offer you more affordable health insurance. You can read the text of the health care law in full or section by section by visiting HealthCare.gov. The section-by-section version of the health care law is also available at CCIIO.CMS.gov."
In this case, I had already informed Patricia that I was a great-grandparent, so my Internet skills were more in-line with those of a centenarian than a Millennial. I couldn’t be satisfied, leading Patricia to seemingly end the conversation.
[4:36:47 pm]: Willy
Can you copy and paste the text of the law to me so I can know what's in it?
[4:46:06 pm]: No such user exists
[4:46:18 pm]: No such user exists
[4:46:21 pm]: No such user exists
[4:46:39 pm]: No such user exists
The rude hang-up led me to doggedly pursue the truth, this time with androgynous Erain, who proved an apt dueling partner, slinging out talking points that would make Krystal Ball blush.
Erain held court, informing me that Obamacare "offers new rights and protections […] requires health insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing health conditions […] helps you understand the coverage you’re getting […] holds insurance companies accountable […] prohibits health insurance companies from cancelling your coverage just because you’re sick […] guarantees your right to appeal a health insurance company’s denial of coverage."
As long as you are able to sign up for the Gaia-forsaken thing.