After spending several hours over two days to enroll in an insurance plan through the glitch-prone Maryland health exchange, it took another two days to cancel the policy.
Agents at the CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield call center have been inundated with calls from people having trouble buying a new policy through the exchange. Maybe that's why they had little time to get me out of mine. (The insurance would have cost me more out-of-pocket than the insurance provided by my employer.)
The first few times I called the carrier, a recording told me to try again later because of high call volume. I couldn't even opt to wait in a queue. I went to CareFirst's website to create an online account so I could send an email seeking help. That didn't work either.
On the second day, I called tech support to ask how to send an email. After 40 minutes, an agent said I could only email from my account after my policy took effect March 1.
So I called the call center again. And again. And the electronic operator finally let me queue up. After about 35 minutes, an agent instructed me to send a letter to cancel my policy. She said it would likely take 10 business days to process once they received the letter, which I faxed.
Insurers that sell through the state's online marketplace for the uninsured and underinsured are getting a range of calls — from people who haven't gotten their medical cards, who have billing questions, who want to sign up for a health plan directly with the carrier because they can't get through the exchange website.
Michael Sullivan, a CareFirst spokesman, said the carrier has taken "extraordinary steps to give Marylanders every opportunity to enroll in coverage for 2014," including accommodating late enrollment and payment. That and other factors have resulted in high call volume.
Just counting calls from people in individual plans sold on the exchange or directly through CareFirst, call volume has risen from a weekly average of 3,000 a year ago to a peak of 20,000 calls in December. CareFirst has added 100 customer service representatives and extended hours, "but even so, we are challenged to handle the volume," Sullivan said.
The exchange has been beset by a range of technical glitches, and also has increased the number of people in its call center to handle questions and complaints. In recent testimony in Annapolis, officials said faulty software was causing problems with enrollment, including the transmission of policies to carriers.
In contrast, canceling my new dental insurance took one quick call. The agent at Dominion Dental Associates Inc. said if I don't pay by March 1, the coverage expires on its own.