Sunday, January 05, 2014

United Healthcare, Obamacare, Franz Kafka, and the 'Positive Healthcare Experience'

United Healthcare was excited to have me

The letter from United Healthcare was dated December 9, 2013. It said as follows:


Thank you for choosing United Healthcare. We are excited to be able to provide you a positive healthcare experience and to ensure that you understand your benefits and payment requirements.

I was very pleased to receive this letter.

As I recounted a few weeks ago, United Healthcare had previously provided me with differing and inconsistent versions of my 2014 health insurance, which I had purchased in early November on the New York Health Exchange. The letter included a bill for the premium, which correlated with the amount of the premium previously disclosed to me.

Since the payment was due on January 1, I felt that there would be no problem with waiting until Dec. 28 to make my payment. I did so. My payment, which was by credit card, was acknowledged.

There was only one problem. At no time after receiving that letter did I receive anything else from United Healthcare--such as, most importantly, insurance ID cards  that would permit me to actually use my health insurance. That was a matter of some concern to me, as my previous healthcare coverage expired on December 31.

On January 2, I telephoned United Healthcare at the Member Services phone number (877-856-2429). That put me into its automated service, which asked me whether I had questions about "benefits" or "enrollment." There were no other categories. I pressed the number for "enrollment," which seemed closest, and after a while a person answered.

I explained my situation. I expressed concern that I could not actually use the health insurance for which I had enrolled and actually paid for.

The United Healthcare person expressed sympathy. He was here to help me. So I asked for assistance. Could he tell me when I would be receiving my cards?

He could not. He said that apparently (he was not sure himself) cards are only sent out after payment is tendered, so I would have to wait another "seven to ten business days."

In the interim, I asked, could I have my member and group number? That way I at least could sign up online, and actually give this information to any doctor I may need to utilize prior to receipt of the membership card.

Expert assistance was available
No, he could not.

However, he told me that if I called the billing information line, 800-708-2848, I could obtain the information that I requested.
I telephoned that number. A very nice lady said to me that she did not have the information that I requested, but that it would be available at another number that she provided: 877-856-2429. In other words, the number that I had just called.

At that point I  decided to go to the website that I had used to pay my bill.  There was a link on the left: "Ask the Expert." I decided to do so. At that link there was a form that could be used to contact United Healthcare. Four categories were given: "Account changes," "Coverage questions," "Payment Inquiry," and "Website Assistance."

Nonreceipt of insurance (and prescription, I imagine) cards and ignorance of one's member number did not seem to be covered by any of those choices. The closest seemed to be "Coverage questions," and below that, the subject that seemed closest was "confirm coverages." In the message field, I asked as follows
I have not yet received my ID cards for my wife and myself, and do not know my Member or Group Number. Please advise when the cards will arrive and, in the interim, please provide me with my Member and Group Numbers. Thank you.

I pressed the send button. At that point the "send" on the button turned into "please wait." I did. After a few seconds, the screen stated that my message had been submitted. That was good. "Please keep this request number. . . " it said. I reached for a pencil. But then I read on:

". . . (Error code 101) for Future Reference" it said.  My reference number was an error code? Below were the words "Unable to submit your request. Please try again later."

I tried again later and received the same result. I did so on subsequent days, and received the identical error code and message.

When I had spoken to the person at Member Services, he was reassuring. Not to worry, he said. I have insurance, he said. Even if I hadn't paid, he said, payment by Jan. 10 would assure me of coverage retroactive to January 1.

But in the interim, I asked, what do I do if I get sick? How do I prove to the doctor that I have coverage? How do I obtain prescription drugs? He did not have an answer to those questions.

© 2014 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.
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My latest book is AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, published by St. Martin's Press. Click here to order the book from, and here to order it from Barnes & Noble. Follow me on Twitter: @gary_weiss

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