Last week, I described my fruitless effort to determine from the Maryland Health Connection (ObamaCare exchange) website whether it is permissible for a person to use the exchange to purchase a second, unsubsidized, health insurance policy for the purpose of expanding a patient's access to networks.
I am seeking to do this because of many stories in the news media about patients with pre-existing conditions who are losing part of their health insurance networks because their prior policies were cancelled under ObamaCare. For most people, buying two health insurance policies would be a waste of money, but for a small subset of individuals with medical challenges, having access to a broader network could be lifesaving, even if expensive. (I am assuming no subsidies.) I wanted to know if it is legal to do this under ObamaCare, but no health care policy expert I spoke to knew.
This post describes my effort to get an answer to this question by telephoning the Maryland exchange.
I called in on Sunday, December 29 at 1:22 pm, and went through a fairly extensive menu. At 1:25 pm an automated voice told me 20 people were ahead of me in line, and my estimated wait time was 120 minutes.
I stayed on hold, listening to the same riff repeatedly, punctuated every five minutes or so with a recommendation that I try the website. The music was rather irritating after 45 minutes, but I assume that's intentional: they understandably hope you will hang up and try the website. Unfortunately, in my case, I already had; the answer to my question wasn't there.
At 2:51 pm a live person answered the phone to say they were closing, and would take my name, number and reason for calling and they would call me back tomorrow.
When I explained why I was calling, the staff person (to her credit) decided to give me an answer immediately because I simply had a question instead of needing help filling out a time-consuming form.
I explained that I simply wanted to know if a person who already had health insurance with a limited network could purchase a second policy, without a subsidy, on the exchange in order to get access to a larger network of health providers.
At first she was a little confused about my question, and asked if I am on Medicare. I said no, and rephrased my question.
She then seemed to understand the question, and said no, I could not purchase insurance through the exchange. She explained that the exchange is only for people who do not have a minimum level of insurance – unless I wanted dental only (I told her I did not).
I noticed some hesitation in her voice, so I politely asked, “Are you sure?” She replied that the subsidies are only for people who do not have insurance already. I replied that I don’t want a subsidy; I just want to know if I am allowed to purchase at full price a second policy in order to expand my access to additional networks. She expressed surprise, and said that she had never helped a person before who did not want a subsidy (!). In that case, she said, she thought I probably could do it. She said I should try to do it, because she thought the website would let me.
I pointed out – politely, again, as she was being very polite to me, and probably worked a bit late to help me, besides – that she did not seem very sure. I asked if she was suggesting that I buy the policy and then try to use it, and if I was prevented from using it, then I would know that I was not allowed to buy it?
She said “yes.”
I have to give full marks to the lady who spoke to me for her politeness and willingness to help, but a definitive answer remains elusive.