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Obamacare leaves Las Vegas man owing $407,000 in doctor bills
As seen in The Las Vegas Review-Journal
By Jennifer Robison
The hospital bills are hitting Larry Basich’s mailbox.
That would be OK if Basich had health insurance. But he doesn’t.
Thing is, he should be covered. Basich, 62, bought a plan through the state’s Nevada Health Link insurance exchange in the fall. He’s been paying monthly premiums since November.
Yet the Las Vegan is stranded in a no-man’s-land where no carrier claims him, and his tab is mounting: Basich owes $407,000 for care received in January and February, when his policy was supposed to be in effect. Instead, he’s covered only for March and beyond.
Basich has begged for weeks for help from the exchange and its contractor, Xerox. But Basich’s insurance broker said Xerox seems more interested in lawyering up and covering its hide than in working out Basich’s problems. Nor is Basich the only client facing plan-selection errors through the exchange, she added.
Xerox, meanwhile, said it’s working every day to fix Basich’s problem, and its legal counsel is routine.
In the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and its insurance exchanges, you can find a success story for every failure. But Basich’s case is extreme.
Basich said he began trying to enroll on Oct. 1, the day the exchange website went live. Like many consumers, he fought technical flaws during multiple sign-up attempts. In mid-November he finally got through and chose his plan: UnitedHealthcare’s MyHPNSilver1.
“It was like reaching the third level of Doom,” Basich said of the torturous sign-up process.
Basich paid his first premium on Nov. 21, and within days the exchange withdrew the $160.77 payment from his money-market savings account. Because Basich paid a month before the Dec. 23 deadline, his coverage was to begin Jan. 1.
Weeks ticked by, but Basich received nothing to confirm he had insurance. Nevada Health Link kept telling him he was enrolled, but UnitedHealthcare said he wasn’t in their system.
Basich’s predicament went critical on Dec. 31, when he had a heart attack. His treatment, which included a triple bypass on Jan. 3, resulted in $407,000 in medical bills in January and February that no insurer is covering.
“All I wanted to do when I moved here was buy a house, get a dog and go to some spring training games for the Dodgers,” said Basich, who moved to Las Vegas from Hawaii in 2012.
Meanwhile, the exchange sent Basich premium invoices for January and February. He paid them both.
WHO CAN HELP?
Basich has sought help at virtually every level of the system, from the Xerox customer-service reps who answer the phones at the exchange’s Henderson call center all the way to Gov. Brian Sandoval and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Both Sandoval’s and Reid’s offices have told him they want to help, Basich said, but there’s been no resolution so far.
Even Reid, who took flak for his Feb. 26 statement that “all” Obamacare “horror stories” are “untrue,” is trying to help. Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said one of the senator’s health-care legislative aides has been on the phone with Basich almost daily, “but at this point it’s in the hands of Xerox to see what can be done.”
Though Basich’s problem is exceptional for its dollar value, his situation is not unusual, Burch said. She estimates that of nearly 200 Branch Benefits Consultants client sign ups via Nevada Health Link, only 5 percent have gone through problem-free. More than 20 customers have the same plan-selection issue as Basich. One gave up trying to fix it and is sticking with the plan the exchange put her in.
With the March 31 enrollment deadline looming, Burch said she still sees other widespread enrollment problems, including frequent website error messages; inaccurate federal subsidy calculations; payments missing in the system despite clients’ canceled checks; and wrong effective coverage dates. One client chose an effective coverage date of March 1. Her insurance card showed an effective date of Jan. 1. Burch said that when she called to fix the issue, a customer-service rep told her the system showed a start date of April 1.
Burch said her brokerage supports the Affordable Care Act and launched a department to sell exchange plans. But she said the experience is not what she or her clients hoped for.
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