published Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Chattanooga area man says he didn't lie about Obamacare site insurance

Chad Henderson talks Thursday about his Internet experience applying insurance through the Affordable Care Act website.
Chad Henderson talks Thursday about his Internet experience applying insurance through the Affordable Care Act website.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
Local and national coverage

A day after a 21-year-old Flintstone, Ga., man entered the national media spotlight -- including a front-page Times Free Press story -- for being among the first Americans to actually get through Obamacare's glitchy website and enroll for coverage, he acknowledged that he hadn't actually completed that process.

Amidst the initial publicity, he was hailed by supporters of the Affordable Care Act as an example of the new system working, and was attacked by those against the law for buying into the plan and for being a volunteer for Organized for Action, a nonprofit organization promoting President Barack Obama's agenda.

On Friday, a libertarian magazine, Reason, called Henderson's account into question after a conversation with Henderson's father, who said that he and his son had not actually bought a plan off the Obamacare site yet.

In an interview Friday with the Times Free Press, Chad Henderson confirmed that he hadn't actually purchased a plan, but he insisted he hadn't lied. He said the confusion was in the wording.

"I never actually said I purchased a plan," he said. "I said that I submitted an application, and so I enrolled. I haven't actually paid for a plan, though I found one that I liked. I never meant to mislead anyone."

In a tweet Tuesday that was retweeted by Obama's advisers, Henderson wrote "Enrolled in #Obamacare just now! Looking forward to having affordable health care for the first time!"

Reporters from the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Politico and other national and local outlets also seized on the story, as Henderson was one of the few people who had appeared to complete the enrollment process.

When he first talked with the Times Free Press on Thursday, Chad Henderson said he had picked a bronze plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia that had a premium between $175 and $200. He said that the specific plan fit into his budget, though he wished it covered more.

On Friday, Henderson said he stood by those comments, but said that he never specifically said he had purchased a plan. He did not correct reporters who had published stories saying that he had purchased a plan.

A Blue Cross representative said Thursday the company could not confirm any specific individuals who had signed up, though he had been notified that applicants had been successful.

In an interview with the Times Free Press on Friday, Chad's father, Bill Henderson, said that he never meant to imply in the Reason interview that his son had lied, and believes that misunderstanding over the situation has been blown out of proportion. He said he will stand by his son.

"I know that he applied. He got into the site, and showed the options to me," the elder Henderson said. "We just haven't made our picks yet, but we have planned to."

Bill Henderson said his son did stay up late and access the HealthCare.gov website. He said he saw the Web pages his son showed him laying out prices, but that he said it was too late to settle on one. It is true that neither he nor his son have been insured in years, he said, and that they have anticipated the new coverage.

He said when Reason contacted him, he did not expect to be pitted against his son's account.

"All the media, I think they are just twisting this whatever way they can," Bill Henderson said.

David Yoder, vice president of American Exchange, a Chattanooga-based company specializing in the federal insurance marketplace, said while it is possible for consumers to have their applications approved on the federal site, HealthCare.gov, people aren't technically "enrolled" until they have purchased a plan and all the federal feedback regarding subsidies has been confirmed.

Many people have assumed they were "in" before the process was completed, partially because of confusing terminology, he said.

"I have worked with clients who will get their applications approved, and they say 'Thank goodness, I'm enrolled now,'" he said. "And I have to just say, "Hold on a minute."

Reactions to Henderson's story throughout the episode also underscored the high sensitivity of opinions surrounding the new law, with advocates hyping any success during the marketplace rollout's rocky start, and opponents growing more searing in their disgust.

In hundreds of profanity-laced tweets aimed publicly at the Hendersons, people called Chad a liar, an Obama plant and a propagandist.

The level of attention overall has baffled Bill Henderson, he said. At the end of the day, he says, he still just wants health insurance for his son and himself.

While talking with a reporter, he called his son and said, "I know that you and I are going to get the coverage ... I just want to make sure you're telling the truth."

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com at 423-757-6673.

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