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Florida Blue Struggles in Deluge of New Members

Now that Healthcare.gov is working, the focus shifts to the private sector. How well are insurance companies handling the rapid influx of new customers? 

The Florida Blue jingle says “We are here for you.” But are they? Many fuming customers say no. They’ve been leaving snarky posts on Florida Blue’s Facebook page complaining that they paid their premiums in December but still don’t have an ID card.

They’re tired of wasting hours on the phone or online trying to get the Florida Blue computer system to recognize them and spit out a member number. One of those who has issues is Merrie Beth Neely of Clearwater, an oceanographer who is 48. She’s between jobs so she’s on her own for health insurance. In early December, she found a Florida Blue plan on Healthcare.gov that offered a lot better coverage than she had for less money than she was paying. She paid the premium. But somehow the Florida Blue computer didn’t notice. So she paid again. She got a confirmation number. But she’s still waiting.

“Right now I’m putting off procedures, waiting until I can get the paperwork in order,” she said.

There are many people in the same fix. They raise a good question: Has Florida Blue bitten off more than it can chew?

The company, which used to be called Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Florida before rebranding itself last year, jumped into health reform whole-hog. It offers 76 different plans in every county of the state at Healthcare.gov. In fact, Florida Blue offers more health plans by itself than all other companies combined.

Florida Blue’s spokesmen declined the opportunity for an interview. But they sent an e-mail saying that the company is working diligently to process the high volume of enrollments that are coming in through the Marketplace. The company says it has added staff and extended service hours at both the call centers and retail centers. And they’re putting out the message: We are here for you. Or “Cuenta con nosotros.”

The commercials drive John Challenor of Miami up the wall, since he says the company can’t handle the members it already has.

“I keep seeing commercials every single day for Florida Blue", complained Challenor. "I have a business. I would not be running more commercials to get more customers if I could not handle the back office.”

Challenor enrolled in a Florida Blue top-of-the-line platinum plan through an insurance agent and paid for it Dec. 18.

[Challenor]: So after Jan. 1 I had not - so I decided to make a payment again.

[Gentry]: On your credit card have you looked at your statement to see if the money was withdrawn?

[Challenor]: Yes it’s there of course, and I paid with two different credit cards just to make sure there wasn’t an issue. 

[Gentry]: He still didn’t get his card or number. So he called the state health insurance complaint line.

[Challenor]: They said, "Are you calling about the problems at Florida Blue?". I said, "Oh boy, obviously you know there’s a big problem." They said, "Oh,yes, everybody calling is calling about Florida Blue."

Challenor , who’s 51, says he has owned a number of businesses.

“I think the problem is they’re so totally overwhelmingly overloaded", he said. "Which I don’t quite understand, because they knew this wave of orders was coming, how could you not be prepared for this?”

[Gentry]: What happens when somebody comes?

[Challenor]: No one seems to know anything. They said we don’t see anything in our system. I even drove to the Florida Blue office.

That didn’t help either.

“They were not properly staffed", said Challenor. "The insurance agency told me everyone is so frustrated because the computer system they use – I guess they have access to the computer system - worked flawlessly for years and years, all of a sudden it’s a big mess.”

[Gentry]: well, have you had to go without anything like meds?

Challenor: I have no medication right now. I’m out.

To be clear, both Challenor and Neely say their beef isn’t with the Affordable Care Act. They couldn’t get a decent health policy at any price before Jan. 1, so their new Florida Blue plans will offer better coverage and cost less. If only they can get their cards.