Patients in a close-in DC suburb who think they’ve signed up for new insurance plans are struggling to show their December enrollments are in force, and health care administrators aren’t taking their word for it.
In place of quick service and painless billing, these Virginians are now facing the threat of sticker-shock that comes with bills they can’t afford.
‘They had no idea if my insurance was active or not!’ a coughing Maria Galvez told MailOnline outside the Inova Healthplex facility in the town of Springfield.
She was leaving the building without getting a needed chest x-ray.
‘The people in there told me that since I didn’t have an insurance card, I would be billed for the whole cost of the x-ray,’ Galvez said, her young daughter in tow. ‘It’s not fair – you know, I signed up last week like I was supposed to.’
The x-ray’s cost, she was told, would likely be more than $500.
Galvez said she enrolled in a Carefirst Blue Cross bronze plan at a cost of about $450 per month through healthcare.gov, three days before Christmas.
‘No one has sent me a bill,’ she said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified in a December 11 congressional hearing that the federal government can’t say how many new enrollees have written checks for their first month’s premiums.
‘Some may have paid, some may have not,’ she conceded.
It’s unlikely that a valid insurance card would have changed Galvez’ fortunes, however.
Her Carefirst plan, identified on the Obamacare website as BlueChoice Plus Bronze, carries a $5,500 per-person deductible for 2014 – an amount she would have to pay out-of-pocket before her coverage would apply to medical expenses.
The Inova radiology department wouldn’t speak with MailOnline, and Carefirst did not respond to a request for comment.
A similar situation frustrated Mary, an African-American small businesswoman who asked MailOnline not to publish her last name. She was leaving the Inova Alexandria Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia with two family members.
‘I had chest pains last night, and they took me in the emergency room,’ Mary said. ‘They told me they were going to admit me, but when I told them I hadn’t heard from my insurance company since I signed up, they changed their tune.’
She told MailOnline that a nurse advised her that her bill would go up by at least $3,000 if she were admitted for a day, and her doctor told her the decision was up to her.
‘Should I be in the hospital? Probably,’ she said. ‘Maybe it’s one of those borderline cases. I have to think that if I were really in danger, they wouldn’t give me the choice. But what if I think I’m covered and I’m really not?’
‘The emergency room bill is going to be bad enough.’
The Obamacare system has suffered from a long list of setbacks since its October 1 rollout, starting with an inoperable website and ending with rampant uncertainty about whether Americans who enrolled are actually covered.
‘We’re telling consumers if they’re not sure if they’re enrolled they should call the insurer directly,’ White House Press Secretary Jay Carney old reporters on December 2.
The Washington Post reported that day that because of computer glitches in the ‘back end’ of healthcare.gov, enrollment records for as many as one-third of new insurance customers were corrupted or otherwise contain errors.
Given the Obama administration’s latest claim that 2.1 million have signed up nationwide, that means as many as 700,000 Americans might falsely believe they have a current health insurance policy.
Mary and others like her, who took the time to enroll but may not follow the daily flood of news about Obamacare, likely don’t know one way or the other.
‘Why is this so complicated?’ she asked. ‘I had my own private insurance last year, but they cancelled me in November. I’m not sure which end is up.’
Private industry estimates put the number of policy cancellations as high as 4.7 million in the last quarter of 2013, mostly involving health care plans that didn’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s strict minimum standards.
Democrats serving on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce dispute that number, saying in a new report that no more than 10,000 will wind up without affordable insurance options after losing their old policies.
President Obama has attracted widespread criticism, and a ‘lie of the year’ award from one newspaper’s fact-checker, for promising that Americans who liked their health plans would be allowed to keep them.
Dr. John Venetos, a Chicago gastroenterologist, told the Associated Press on Thursday that he is seeing ‘tremendous uncertainty and anxiety’ among his patients who signed up for Obamacare plans but don’t have insurance cards.
‘They’re not sure if they have coverage,’ Venetos said. ‘It puts the heavy work on the physician.’
‘At some point, every practice is going to make a decision about how long can they continue to see these patients for free if they are not getting paid.’
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David Martosko is the U.S. Political Editor of the Daily Mail (London).