Two Months Later, Health Insurance Seekers Find Frustration

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Artist Andrea Arroyo, 50, pays more than $1,000 a month for insurance and wants to find something cheaper.

Taxi driver Mahmoud Khanfour, 61, has been uninsured since his wife took early retirement about five years ago, and wants more protection.

Schoolteacher-turned-rock musician Julie Ross, 33, has gone without coverage for a long time—but if it costs too much, even with federal subsidies, she doesn't want it.

WNYC spoke with these New Yorkers in the weeks before New York unveiled its insurance marketplace on Oct. 1. Since then, much of the attention has been focused on, the exchange the federal government is running for roughly two-thirds of the states, including New Jersey. The website has been  a target for Congressional committees and late-night comedians, and had only signed up 27,000 people as of Nov. 13, the most recent figures disclosed by the Obama administration.

In New York, 76,177 have signed up for health plans as of Monday. About 54 percent of those have been eligible for private insurance, and about 46 percent have applied for Medicaid.

For Arroyo, the application has been a disaster. Repeatedly, she and her husband have gone through the elaborate registration, only to find that their information wasn't truly saved. They've received conflicting information about how to estimate their income in order to determine their subsidy. They recently went to downtown Manhattan from their home in Washington Heights to work with a highly trained "navigator" to fill out their application.

But when the Arroyos got back to their apartment and tried to log into the system, there was no record, and they had to start all over again.

Even so, Arroyo has tentatively found a plan she thinks most of her physicians will accept. She's currently going through the fine print. With their subsidy, the new policy would save her and her husband about 25 percent—less than the 50 percent savings she hoped to find, but "still significant."

Khanfour has been following the woes of the healthcare reform rollout in the news, and he's been staying on the sidelines. The Taxi Workers Alliance is currently negotiating with Emblem Health to get a special rider for taxi drivers, and the TWA is still developing its own navigators. Khanfour said when both of those things are in place, he'll be on line to get coverage.

"To do it by myself, now, it's a lot of headache," he said.

Ross has been a little tougher to nail down. She chatted briefly, saying she had not gone online to shop for coverage—something the state has made impossible, in any event, until you register—but she has somewhat followed the tumultuous news about the program's problems.

She said she had some sympathy, politically, for President Barack Obama—but not enough, so far, to overcome her personal misgivings about being required to purchase insurance.