ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
When HealthCare.gov was at its worst last month, in Alaska just 53 people managed to sign up. Among the few was Anchorage hairstylist Lara Imler. But she has since discovered problems with her application and now, Imler wants to cancel. Alaska Public Radio Network's Annie Feidt reports.
ANNIE FEIDT, BYLINE: Earlier this month, Laura Imler sounded thrilled to finally be enrolled in an affordable insurance plan. Now, she sounds more like this.
LAURA IMLER: I don't even know how to feel about the whole thing anymore. It's just such a lost cause, at this point.
FEIDT: A few things went wrong with Imler's HealthCare.gov application. First, according to the website, she successfully enrolled in a health plan. But her new insurance company, Moda Health, didn't have her application. When she called the HealthCare.gov hotline number, no one could figure out what went wrong.
Then, she found out the website miscalculated her subsidy amount. She was supposed to receive a monthly subsidy of $366, but the website only let her use $315.
IMLER: The subsidy issue is weird. If you look at my profile on the website, it shows my full subsidy. But it says I'm only using part of it. So they know I've got a screwed-up subsidy, but they don't know what to do with it. There's no one directly you can talk to, to say hey, my subsidy is on there. How do I apply all of it?
FEIDT: It turns out everyone's subsidy in Alaska was miscalculated. Enroll Alaska is a benefits consulting group helping people sign up for coverage. They discovered the error in mid-October and suspended enrollments. It took two weeks for the Department of Health and Human Services to resolve the issue. Enroll Alaska COO Tyann Boling says half the people her insurance agents sit down with have tried to navigate HealthCare.gov on their own and given up.
TYANN BOLING: I think that even if this website was functioning at 100 percent, this would not be an easy process. This is complicated. If you click on one wrong thing, there's no back buttons. It can be a really, really nasty process to go through.
FEIDT: Boling is as frustrated with the website as Laura Imler. After weeks of trying, and failing, to make her application work, Imler wants a break from HealthCare.gov. She hasn't paid a premium, and she figures canceling the plan with the chance to start fresh later is her best option. So on a recent morning, she sits on her living room couch, with her laptop and a cup of coffee.
(SOUNDBITE OF KEYBOARDING)
IMLER: I've had to change my password about four times. (Laughter) Oh, you know what? I have it written down. Ha-ha-ha - I cheated. There it is.
FEIDT: The site logs Imler in pretty quickly. And after a few clicks, she finds her enrollment information.
IMLER: This is my application that I applied - on the 24th of October.
FEIDT: And it says "status complete."
IMLER: Yeah, it says complete. So you have to click on here - on the actual application.
FEIDT: She scrolls down and eventually finds an ominous-looking, red icon that says "terminate coverage."
IMLER: So you hit the terminate button. It says, "you've chosen to end the following coverage." You then have to check "I have fully read and understand that I'm choosing to terminate coverage." And then you click "terminate" again - and we'll see what happens.
FEIDT: What happens is nothing. The health plan Imler signed up for is still listed in her profile. She logs out and then back in, and it looks exactly the same. Imler leans back on the couch and appears surprisingly calm about the whole thing.
IMLER: I'm resigned to the fact that it doesn't work. No matter what I do, it just doesn't work. And this is the improved website.
FEIDT: Imler's been uninsured for nearly a decade, and wants insurance. This is a separation, not a divorce. She plans to log back into the website early next year and is hopeful that signing up will go a lot more smoothly then.
For NPR News, I'm Annie Feidt in Anchorage.
SHAPIRO: This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, Alaska Public Radio Network and Kaiser Health News.