This is the story of two small business owners on opposite coasts and their problem with the federal health insurance law. Their problem: You have to get it, but even when you try, you can't.
The one on the East Coast navigated the federal website, Healthcare.gov, while the West Coast company tried to figure out the Covered California website. Ironically, their experiences were almost identical -- difficult and unfavorable.
The small West Coast computer repair and website design company is located near Los Angeles. Although President Obama said that you would be able to keep your coverage if you desired, the husband and wife owners lost their health plans and had to get new coverage through Covered California.
And, despite this business owner's computer expertise and website proficiency, he still found the site "confusing."
His first unanswered question was, "Is my old carrier going to enroll us automatically on the exchange or do we have to enroll?" He called his old insurer and discovered that he would indeed have to go through the entire enrollment process. It would prove painful and time consuming at the end of a very busy year.
So he logged on to the website, chose a health plan and applied. But he was stymied. The site requested verification of income but the place to input this information was hidden and the proof had to be uploaded.
This led to several web chats with a very busy employee on Covered California's website. When that failed, he resorted to a good old-fashioned telephone conversation.
Verification is usually a W-2 form, but since his company is so small, it doesn't issue W-2s. Instead he found a way to upload his tax return, all the while hoping that the Covered California website isn't hacked the way so many websites have been recently.
He still hasn't heard back and hopes -- against hope -- that he and his wife will have coverage after the ball drops on New Year's Eve.
Goldilocks makes up her mind
The East Coast small business owner's plan was also cancelled, so her insurance agent suggested a new one. It was a bronze plan, which provided less coverage but at a lower cost than the comparable silver plan, which had a 43 percent rate hike for 2014.
She was uncomfortable with either choice and decided instead to enroll through the federal health exchange website. But for New Jersey the site only offered three insurance company's plans. And like Goldilocks's choice of bowls of porridge: one was too expensive, one was unknown and one seemed, if not just right, to at least offer a reasonably priced silver plan with a subsidy.
But to meet the then Dec. 23 enrollment deadline, she still had to terminate her old insurer, confirm enrollment with the new one and ensure that her doctors were in network under this new plan.
Nothing worked. Her current insurer wouldn't accept termination by phone, insisting instead on signed documentation. She scrambled to find the necessary paperwork, all the while calling her doctors' offices to find out if they were considered in-network.
But most could neither confirm nor deny that they would accept her new coverage.
And her new insurer came with a whole set of complications. It said it would take up to three weeks to determine if she was even enrolled -- way past her Jan. 1 cutoff date.
"Can I prepay the premium so I don't lose my coverage on Jan. 1?" she asked.
The answer was a resounding, "No."
"Will I have to reenroll if you cut me off for nonpayment?" she countered.
The customer service rep didn't have an answer.
Having endured enough, she called her insurance agent for advice. When she told him that she had enrolled in a new plan through the health exchange, he hung up on her.
'Don't worry, be happy'
And so these two small businesses ring in the New Year uncertain whether or not the Obamacare system will offer them insurance. Neither one knows if they have health insurance and, if so, with which carrier.
But they both wish you a Happy New Year.