The telephone operators who answer questions about Healthcare.gov, the website for buying Affordable Care Act insurance, have been busy lately. Thats not surprising, given that Tuesday is the last day to purchase coverage for the rest of 2017.
But this year, something is different: Obamacares future is in doubt. And thats made for some difficult moments.
Republicans have vowed to repeal the 2010 health care law and President Donald Trump has already issued an executive order that could weaken the program while its still on the books. The damage to the market could start in 2018 or even earlier, under some scenarios.
With these possibilities getting more and more attention in the media, the people who have coverage through Obamacare are getting worried and, as one phone operator told The Huffington Post, they have been calling.Its heartbreaking, because we cant tell these people that it will be okay, because we dont know if it will be okay.
The operator was careful to say that not everybody calling is in a panic. In fact, a sizable minority of people are telephoning just to say how happy they are that the law, which they really dont like, might finally go away.
But more often than not, the callers are scared and it seems the attendants havent gotten specific guidance on what to tell them. The Obama administration would routinely send along updated scripts when a news event was likely to prompt new questions and calls, but, according to this operator, theres been nothing like that since Trump took office.
They dont know if theyre going to be able to take their medicines, or see their doctors.
The operator, who works for a government contractor, agreed to answer questions about this years open enrollment and what callers are saying. The only condition was anonymity, because workplace rules forbid employees from speaking to the media. (The Huffington Post verified the operators identity independently.)
What follows is a transcript of that interview, lightly edited for clarity.
What are you hearing this year that is different?
Because the website is working so much better the people calling us dont really need us like they needed us before. It used to be that people relied on us to walk them through the application process. Now, they just need questions answered. And now a lot of those people are asking questions like, Will I have health insurance? We cant really answer them with certainty.
Theres also a clear division now. You have some people, they want to know what will happen to their health insurance. They dont know if theyre going to be able to take their medicines, or see their doctors. And thats about 60, maybe 70 percent of the calls we end up getting. The rest, so I guess thats the other 30 to 40 percent, are people who are saying I cant wait for this to go away.
The ones who say they cant wait for it to go away. What do they say?
They dont like to have to fill in an application for insurance for a doctor they cant visit because, you know, hes 60 miles away, in another town. Its not someplace they go regularly. Sometimes they say that the deductibles or the monthly premiums are just too much.
Sometimes they say that the deductibles or the monthly premiums are just too much.
In the past, weve had people call us and theyd be like those folks you hear about theyd have a negative attitude about the health care law. And then they would find what the price would actually be, and they were amazed. In a good way. But there hasnt been so much of that this year. I think everybody whose mind could have been changed has been changed.
What about the 60 to 70 percent, the ones who are worried, what are those like?
These people are calling in, and they want to make sure they will be covered. They want reassurances that if they sign up for insurance right now, that it will still be in effect for the rest of the year.
The answer we give them is that, according to the information weve been given, we believe they will have coverage. If they are signing up through open enrollment, then they should have the insurance, and they will get the tax credits if they are eligible, at least through the end of the year again, based on the information that has been given to us. Congress has given us no indication that they will pull everything.
The problem is that everything is so up in the air. And people know it. They are calling us with questions, and we dont know what to tell them, because no one has given us any indication of what may happen. So theres a general unease around here, about everyone who is calling in and talking to us. They just want to know, and we dont feel like we have definitive answers for them.
Has anybody shared their stories about what it would mean to lose insurance?
In the the first couple of years, a lot of what we were doing was teaching people about insurance this is how coverage works. That kind of thing. And even now, we get calls from people who have never had insurance before. They dont know what a premium is. They dont know what a deductible is. So some of that is education.
But once theyve been on it for a couple of years, they understand and say, okay, I wouldnt be able to afford my medicine say, my insulin if it wasnt for this insurance. Or they went to the doctor and found a tumor that they didnt know they had. Thats because they had insurance now.
Everything is so up in the air. And people know it.
Youve actually had calls like that?
Oh, yeah, its a daily thing. On average, a single CSR [customer service representative] will take anywhere from 10 to 20 calls a day, depending on the length and complexity of the questions they are getting. And Id say usually its one to three calls a day are like that a story where somebody wouldnt be able to afford this medicine if it werent for this law.
What do you tell these people?
Unfortunately, a lot of it is toeing the line of what we are allowed to say right now. We dont have a whole lot of information. We can tell them that, to the best of our knowledge, nothing is changing immediately. But it flies in the face of everything weve seen on the television. And its heartbreaking, because we cant tell these people that it will be okay, because we dont know if it will be okay.
Have you gotten any guidance? Was any given to you?
No, nothing like that. There is a whole other company, a third party, responsible for writing all of our scripted information giving the kinds of things we are allowed to say on the phone. And they have to get clearance from CMS [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] on what we are allowed to say.
Everything from the past week has been radio silence, as to what we are and are not allowed to say.
Is that unusual?
Yes. Typically we have gotten updates pretty regularly, especially when there are things like this in the media. Before, if there was something in the news … within 24 to 36 hours we would have new language and scripting, and we were allowed to say, okay, here is the new information we have.
To go a week from President Trumps initial executive order last Friday, with almost no updates as to what may happen. I dont even know if they know whats going to happen yet. I dont really think anybody knows whats going to happen yet.
Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/