published Sunday, July 27th, 2014

For one man trying to switch insurance networks, it's not easy

Small business owner Mark Horner poses for a photo in his Old Tyme Photos studio.
Small business owner Mark Horner poses for a photo in his Old Tyme Photos studio.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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By the time Mark Horner signed up for insurance on Healthcare.gov in March, the furor over the site's botched rollout had largely been replaced with news that millions of people were flooding the site to enroll.

Horner is a self-employed photographer who lives in Ooltewah. His wife's job does not offer health insurance, and both have pre-existing conditions that mean they regularly see specialists.

Horner went on HealthCare.gov on March 15 and settled on a lower-level bronze plan in BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's Network E. But the couple almost immediately realized their doctors weren't in the network.

And what Horner thought would be a simple, same-day fix turned into a bureaucratic impasse.

BlueCross directed him to a federal marketplace help line, where a specialist walked him through the process and told him the network switch was complete.

But one week into April -- after open enrollment ended -- BlueCross told Horner the transaction had never made it through the federal site.

BlueCross officials said they don't control the federal website, although they try to advocate for customers in such situations.

Horners spent fruitless hours on the phone with federal marketplace officials, each enrollment attempt ending in a HealthCare.gov error.

The Horners are paying hundreds of dollars for a plan they don't want and have had to cancel appointments with doctors not in Network E.

"We have been paying for coverage that we cannot really use," he said.

A month ago, they called U.S. Sen. Bob Corker's office for help.

Corker's staff said Friday they've received dozens of such requests. Staff members said they contacted the U.S. Health and Human Services Department on the Horners' behal, and the agency corrected the mistake.

Horner said the new plan is supposed to kick in Sept. 1.

"I welcomed the change of the marketplace and the Affordable Care Act, and overall I support what the law's doing," said Horner. "But this has been a ride."

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