You may have trouble getting your identity verified when you apply for health insurance through the online Federal Marketplace if there are errors on your credit report.
The government-run website Healthcare.gov uses identity-verification services provided by credit reporting agency Experian and, according to numerous reports, lots of people are having a hard time proving to the government-run site that they are who they say they are.
A Nov. 26 article in the New York Times tells of thousands of health insurance applicants who have so far struggled to take advantage of the new Federal Marketplace because the website couldn’t verify their identity.
In an interview with New York Times reporter Robert Pear, Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said that the vast majority of applicants have had no trouble breezing through the online identification process. “However, some consumers whose information does not match records, such as when an alternate name is used or an address does not match, may be referred to a call center,” said Peters.
Those call centers are run by Experian and some user reports posted online state that it may take a while to get through to a representative. Once you do, you may still not be able to get your problem rectified.
If the customer service representative is unable to verify your identity, then you’ll have to upload proof to Healthcare.gov and wait for someone to get back to you. Or you can just sign up the old-fashioned way — in person — at a “local help” site designated by Healthcare.gov and present proper identification.
An imperfect database
It’s not clear what exactly is causing so many people to run into problems when they try to get their identities verified on the Healthcare.gov website. But in a message to the consumer advocacy group Consumers Union, one consumer suggested that unresolved credit report errors could be partially to blame (at least for some unlucky applicants). In a message re-posted by Consumers Union’s Maureen Mahoney, the consumer wrote:
“Twice now, I’ve been unable to get my identity verified because Experian has had incorrect data on me in their files … [The] second was when I was trying to apply for health insurance for my husband under the new ACA website. How is it that this agency has so much power over us and isn’t forced to be more accurate or more diligent in checking its data?”
According to a December 2012 report from the Federal Trade Commission, a substantial number of errors found on credit reports involve so-called header information, such as a consumer’s age or address.
Those types of errors could potentially gum up Experian’s identity verification services, since the security questions that Healthcare.gov asks consumers to answer may involve addresses where the consumer has never lived.
Other credit errors that could theoretically cause problems include mixed file issues that involve incorrect names or Social Security numbers and even bigger problems, such as records that incorrectly show you’re dead. (Apparently, at least one Twitter user, David Tarver, has already claimed that he couldn’t get verified through Healthcare.gov because Experian thought he was six feet under.)
Tough to get fixed
According to the Federal Trade Commission, credit report errors that involve identifying header information, such as an incorrect age or address, have a higher rate of getting corrected than other types of errors when consumers initiate a formal dispute.
But when the consumer reporting agencies fail to fix a credit report error on the first try, some consumers find that getting misinformation erased from their reports can be a months-long — or even years-long — nightmare.
Last year, for example, I talked to one recent college grad who spent six years trying to get identification and tradeline errors cleared from his Experian credit report.
Another gentlemen I spoke with said each time he tried to get unfamiliar addresses erased from his report, he received letters from the credit bureau saying that it had verified the addresses, so it wouldn’t change them. After several tries, he just gave up. (It’s worth noting that these anecdotes occurred before the credit reporting agencies’ industry representative announced that credit bureaus would soon begin forwarding whatever documents consumers sent as proof of their dispute to the furnishers of the misinformation — a move that analysts expect will make it easier to get at least some types of errors resolved.)
Luckily, the Federal Marketplace is trying to get around the problem of Experian-supplied errors by giving consumers an opportunity to send proof of their identity directly to the feds. Some consumers who’ve tried, however, say the government has been slow to investigate and verify their documents, according to multiple reports.
That makes buying health insurance for 2014 a stressful ordeal for those who are trying to get covered by Jan. 1 (the day that the Affordable Care Act’s federal mandate officially becomes law). If consumers don’t get health insurance by the Fed’s shifting enrollment deadline (which currently runs through the end of March), then they could wind up with a hefty penalty — through no fault of their own.