ANNAPOLIS, Md. — For those trying to enroll through online health exchanges, help has long been advertised as just a phone call away.
Yet the challenge in some states has been trying to get a call through at all, nevermind the multiple transfers once contact has been made.
Long wait times of an hour or more have been commonplace in some states, primarily those running their own health care exchanges. California, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada and Washington are among the states in which consumers and insurance agents have complained. One consequence is that people just give up because they are unable to wait indefinitely.
“If I had to use one word, I’d use ‘frustrating,’ ” said Jacki Manley, a stay-at-home mom in the western Maryland town of Keedysville, who has been trying since mid-December to enroll in a health plan through that state’s health exchange.
With a child who is almost 3 and another who is 5 months, the 20 minutes she can spare on hold often have not been enough. She estimates she has reached someone at the Maryland call center three out of about a dozen times she has called, but then she gets passed between different people and cannot get definitive answers to her questions.
Manley thinks she has successfully enrolled her children but is unsure whether she and her husband have been enrolled after more than two months of trying.
Manley said she has given up calling. Now, she uses Facebook to try to get the help she needs.
The telephone frustration is just one more obstacle consumers are facing as the March 31 deadline for open enrollment approaches.
Technical glitches and software meltdowns on the federal and some state-run exchanges deterred many people from signing up after enrollments under the federal Affordable Care Act began in October.
With many of those technical problems solved, enrollments across the country have been brisk since the start of the year. Yet even with 4 million signed up for policies through the exchanges, the Obama administration will be challenged to meet its own projection of 7 million enrollees by the deadline.
In California, an operational review of the state-run exchange’s first three months showed consumers waiting 45 minutes to an hour for an employee to answer, and insurance agents have said they have waited hours to make human contact.