Affordable Care? It's not even understandable ...

Apparently the health insurance companies don't really "do" IT

With all of the furore over healthcare.gov being a monumental #fail little attention has been paid to how well the medical insurance industry has been performing as they deal with the changes wrought by the Affordable Care Act. 

Sure, we know that many people, including me, who were promised that they'd be able to stick with their plans found that was simply not true and that the medical insurers cancelled our policies but to add insult to injury, the whole process of applying for a new policy has become glacially slow and astoundingly amateurish.

<digression>Rather than mess around with any of the various Web services to find a new plan I went through an insurance agent. Compared to the laborious process of online research, experienced insurance agents (unlike the amateurish ACA "navigators") know the policies and options and they cost you nothing! Why the ACA got involved with Web sites and navigators rather than relying on and bolstering the established agent infrastructure is hard to fathom.</digression>

As an individual subscriber rather than get a new ACA-complaint policy, which would have cost me roughly four times what I was paying, on the advice of my agent I opted for an interim policy that will get me through the next year. It will still cost almost twice what I was paying but I will, at least, have better coverage.

So it was that I applied for a Cigna policy and my agent sent me an application form from Cigna in PDF  format to complete. Now, I have seen some lame, amateurish forms in my time in IT but Cigna's was in the top ten. Make that top five.

To begging with the fields weren't ordered so tabbing didn't take you from, say, Last Name to First Name; oh no, it took you to whatever random field was next by default. It also had check boxes where it should have had radio buttons, radio buttons where it should have had checkboxes, and no font sizes were specified so in one field you'd be typing in a 64-point font while the next field used a 9-point font. Better still the form had apparently been bolted together from several older forms so where you were supposed to be asked for your personal information the text actually asked for information about all applicants and repeated the same language in every additional duplicated sections for any other applicants. 

I could go on at even greater length about what was wrong with the form and how it should have been designed but the point is that it was unprofessional and made information giving and gathering inefficient for both the consumer and the insurance company.

As if that weren't bad enough Cigna, along with every other insurance company according to my agent, is having huge problems dealing with the volume of applications (when my agent chases up the insurers by phone she tells me the wait time to speak to someone is now routinely four to five hours ... only the gods know what the hold time is for consumers).

To further sink any hope of Cigna getting its act together this morning I received two email messages sent one after the other with identical content:

Dear mark gibbs:

A new message is available in your Cigna Message Center. The message contains important information about your account status, and requires your review. Login and visit the My Account page.

Thank You,

Cigna Individual & Family Plans

I love my name all in lower case and, of course, there are no links to wherever "my message center is to be found and I can't see what is in "my" message center anyway because I don't yet have an account and I can't register because my information apparently isn't in the system.

[UPDATE: I just got a third, identical message about 2 3/4 hours after the first two messages. I still can't register.]

As an example of corporate IT ability and effectiveness this is, to put it mildly, pathetic.

Moreover, the argument that business can achieve what the government can't is, in healthcare at least, a complete and utter fiction. The government and big business are equally incompetent when it comes to servicing the needs of consumers. We are like sheep who are just there to be shorn. Baaaa. 

Bleat your comments below or to gearhead@gibbs.com then follow me on TwitterApp.net, and Facebook.

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