SYNDICATED COLUMN: Ted Rall Registers for Obamacare, Part II

Crashes, More Crashes and Sticker Shock

This week: I shop for Obamacare so you don’t have to!

Last week I spent six hours shopping for Obamacare on New York State’s healthcare marketplace website. Officials had estimated that it would take the average person seven minutes.

Either because I am not an average person or because the Obamacare people are idiots, I spent six hours setting up an account. You can’t log in without an account.

There were many questions. The site ran painfully slowly. But I slogged through.

Until I ran into a wall. This happened when the system tried to “verify my identity” by asking me to answer a set of multiple-choice questions generated by the DMV (which model car, if any, had I recently purchased?) and some credit reporting agency (which type of loan, if any, was mine?). The page froze. Apple’s little blue circle spun and spun. I wound up with a cryptic error message written by some Indian coder.

So I gave up. But then, over the weekend, President Obama spoke soothing words.

“What’s happened is the website got overwhelmed by the volume,” Obama said, calmly. And he’s right. That must be what happened. Apparently this explanation was supposed to make it OK. As opposed to prompting another reaction like, say: Jimmy Carter sent a probe that’s still sending back the sound of interstellar plasma from beyond Pluto, but you can’t rent enough server space to handle Internet traffic? Why? Is the NSA using it all?

“Folks,” the president continued, “are working around the clock and have been systematically reducing the wait times, but we are confident that over the course of the six months — because it’s important to remember people have six months to sign up — that we are going to probably exceed what anybody expected in terms of the amount of interest that people have.”

Well, if folks are working on it — good, decent, common salt-of-the-earth types, farmer-type hillbilly folks, but with mad coding skills, presumably — then clearly all would be well.

And so it was!

Since I am uninsured, I spent the weekend avoiding injuries and infections.   When I went back to the site on Monday, I was able to log on. Somehow, despite the error message, my account worked. Yay, Folks!

Take that, John Boehner! Government can do stuff.

First step: you enter the names, Social Security Numbers and birthdates of all the members of your family, describe how they’re related, and answer several arcane questions (are you Native American? Hispanic/Latino? Are you a native-born American or were you naturalized? Have you been here since 1996?). It’s time-consuming but straightforward if you’re used to filling out forms.

If you’re like me, and you have a suffix (Sr., Jr., III, IV, V) in your name, the website does not know what to do. It kind of explodes. Until it works. Even though you did the same thing over and over.

But then…it came! The nefarious Return of the Error Messages.

What do you mean, you can’t confirm my SSN? I know my SSN. I’ve had it since the Ford Administration. I know how to enter it, too. And why are you saying the same thing three times?

I kept reentering the same SSN. Same result each time. But then, suddenly, there was hope:

I have a right to appeal! So I called the number. Which didn’t answer.

How could Obama’s Folks let me down? Folks don’t do that. Folks do folky things.

Folks suck.

What to do? Well, I’m male. So I did what guys do when faced with any insurmountable obstacle: I smashed into it, head first, over and over and over in the hope that something, somehow, for no reason, would change.

I reentered all my info. Got the same error about my SSN. Again. Repeat. Rinse. Something.

Finally, something changed.

“Congratulations! You are eligible to enroll in a qualified plan through the Marketplace.” Indeed, I felt like I’d just won a MacArthur fellowship. Which I deserve, because only a genius could have made it this far into such a balky website.

It was time to Find a Plan.

What did I need to know? A list of my current doctors and of nearby hospitals and healthcare facilities. No problem.