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Glitch Hits FL Blue Enrollees

Merrie Beth Neely
Merrie Beth Neely

Florida Blue may have bitten off more than it can chew with its new plans under the Affordable Care Act. The company's customer-service apparatus and computer system appear to be overwhelmed and unable to cope.

Merrie Beth Neely
Merrie Beth Neely

Already the state’s largest insurer, with more than 1 million covered lives, Florida Blue is offering 76 different health plans through the new federally operated Marketplace. In fact, the company lists more plans by itself than all other insurers put together.

But many who signed up and paid Florida Blue for their new plan between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 say the insurer has lost them in its computer system.  Now, when they go to the doctor or try to get a prescription filled, they have to pay the bill themselves or cancel.

“Right now I’m putting off procedures, waiting until I  can get the paperwork in order,” said Merrie Beth Neely of Clearwater. She said she paid twice for her plan in December, but still doesn’t have coverage.

The Division of Financial Services reported Wednesday that it has received many calls from Florida Blue enrollees, and 42 of them filed official complaints.

Florida Blue spokesmen declined a request for an interview, but sent an e-mail saying the company is working diligently to process the high volume of enrollments that are coming in through the Marketplace at Healthcare.gov. The company said it has added staff and extended service hours at both the call centers and retail centers.

On its Facebook page, Florida Blue posted a note: “Are you a new member waiting for your ID card? We are diligently working to get these cards to you as quickly as possible,” it says. It urges those who are stuck in this limbo to contact them at socialmedia@floridablue.com, “and we will ensure that you are able to get the care you need.”

But Neely and several others who expected ID cards -- or at least member numbers -- on Jan. 1 say that calling and e-mailing haven't worked.

'Insurance That I Can't Use'

Neely, 48, is a PhD oceanographer, but between jobs. The only health policy she had was a stripped-down plan that covered very little, so she was careful to make sure she applied and paid for her Florida Blue policy in early December, she said.

She was pleasantly surprised to find that she could buy a much better plan than she had and pay far less for it.  But her payment got lost in the Florida Blue computer system, she said.

"Now I feel like I have insurance that I can't use," Neely said.

When she hadn't heard anything from the company by the third week of December, and the deadline for Jan. 1 coverage was approaching, Neely called. She got a recording. She kept trying, kept checking the mail.

On the 31st, she was able to speak to a consumer service "specialist." He said, "'The good news is I can see you're in our system. But I can't see any of your ID card information. And you have until the 10th to pay your bill.'"

She replied that she had paid her bill -- twice, actually -- and had a confirmation number. "'What am I going to do? I need to schedule appointments,'" she told him.

Her options, she was told, were to pay out-of-pocket and get reimbursed later, or try to get her doctor's staff to see her and just trust that the payment would eventually come.

Last weekend, Neely said, she got an automated phone call from Florida Blue and a letter in the  mail, both telling her she hadn't paid her premium in time and was going to lose her coverage. So she paid a third time on Wednesday.

'Overwhelmingly Overloaded'

Another new enrollee who can't get coverage is John Challenor of Miami. He too was pleased to get a better plan at a lower cost through Healthcare.gov in December, he says, but Florida Blue has not followed through.  

"I think the problem is they're so totally overwhelmingly overloaded," Challenor said, "which I don't quite understand, because they knew this wave of orders was coming. How could (Florida Blue) not be prepared for this?"

Challenor has paid twice for his premium, he said, using a different credit card the second time. He said Florida Blue's payment shows up on both credit cards.

He called the state insurance complaint line. "They said, 'Are you calling about the problems at Florida Blue?' I said, 'Oh, boy, obviously you know there's a big problem.' They said, 'Oh, yes, everybody is calling about Florida Blue.'"

Challenor, 51, has a pacemaker and takes seven prescription medicines, he said. He's paying for them out-of-pocket pending a resolution of his trouble with Florida Blue.

What really galls Challenor, he says, is seeing and hearing the Florida Blue commercials with the jingle "We are here for you."

"I have a business and I would not be running commercials to get more customers if I could not handle the bank office," he said. "They're taking everyone's money and not providing the product. They take a payment a can't find it? Come on."

--Health News Florida is part of WUSF Public Media. Contact Editor Carol Gentry at 813-974-8629 (desk) or e-mail at cgentry@wusf.org. For more health news, visit HealthNewsFlorida.org.

Copyright 2014 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.After serving two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia, Gentry worked for a number of newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), the Tampa Tribune and Orlando Sentinel. She was a Kaiser Foundation Media Fellow in 1994-95 and earned an Master's in Public Administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1996. She directed a journalism fellowship program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for four years.Gentry created Health News Florida, an independent non-profit health journalism publication, in 2006, and served as editor until September, 2014, when she became a special correspondent. She and Health News Florida joined WUSF in 2012.
Carol Gentry
Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.
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