Obamacare was worth the wait

I've been self-employed for almost nine years, so I'm a seasoned pro when it comes to buying my own health insurance.

This has always been expensive — the second-largest monthly bill after my mortgage.

I've paid between $400 and $535 a month for plans with gaps in coverage, and my premium has always been more than a man my age would pay just because I dared to be born a woman.

So I was excited to see if the promise of the Affordable Care Act was reality. Would I find lower rates and better coverage through the federal government's online health care exchange? The cost of my existing plan would have jumped to $550 a month if I renewed. Could I do better?

I tried to find out when Healthcare.gov launched Oct. 1. You can probably guess what happened next, but I'm a patient person.

I kept poking at the site every week or so to see if there was any progress. In late October, I was able to create an account. By early November, I made my way through just about half of the application before hitting a wall.

I tried again in late November and found that everything worked. No hiccups or glitches. No error messages or freeze-outs. The only reason I didn't file my application then is that I wanted more time to choose my plan, which I've since done.

For me, this is a great deal, similar to another Interest.com writer's experience signing up her family.

I signed up for a Silver plan with Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey. That plan has a $1,500 deductible and $5,000 cap on out-of-pocket expenses. Co-pays for my family doctor are $30, and I'll pay out of pocket for specialists until I hit that deductible, then I'll pay a 30% co-insurance.

I'm OK with this because of that low $1,500 deductible, and the fact that I won't pay more than $5,000 a year in expenses (though that number does not include my premiums).

For all of that, I'll pay $334 per month.

That's a nice savings of $216 per month from what my previous plan wanted to charge me.

In fact, no plan on the exchange — Silver, Gold or Platinum — charged more than that $550 per month.

Can Obamacare save you money? According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 48% of Americans who buy insurance are going to be eligible for subsidies and will receive an average of $5,548, which would cover 66% of the cost. If you earn less than 400% of the federal poverty level, you can get aid. Find out how much of a subsidy you could receive.

Calculating whether or not I was eligible for a subsidy was easy, too: I just put in my 2012 income, and voila! I qualified for a small subsidy — less than a bag of groceries, really

— and decided to take it as a year-end tax credit instead of right off my premiums.

Still, this wasn't an easy choice. Picking a plan forces you to predict what your health needs will be in the future, and that's not always easy.

I could have chosen a more expensive Silver plan that would have included copays for specialists without the requirement of meeting the deductible first. Or I could have chosen a Gold or Platinum, which would have shouldered more of the out-of-pocket costs in exchange for a higher premium.

I landed on this plan because I know myself. If I went with Bronze, I might have held back from seeing the doctor. After reviewing my health care needs from the last five years, I determined that Gold or Platinum is more than I need.

I am taking a slight risk in choosing the lower Silver plan.

If I hurt my foot running and need X-rays and tests, I could end up paying more for care than if I'd chosen the higher Silver plan, but it's not a huge difference, and it's a risk I'm willing to take.

And even if something catastrophic happens and I do need to be in the hospital or have surgery, I've always had more than $5,000 socked away to cover medical expenses. That won't change now.

Has the system been perfect? No.

Do I expect there to be hurdles ahead? I do.

While the Obama administration has touted the improvements made to the site and shorter wait and load times, not everyone has had the same experience I had. For example, a reporter for the nonprofit Propublica.org ran into a maze of delays and errors when he tried to log on to the site the day after the government cited "night and day" progress in improving HealthCare.gov.

I expect there to be a lot of hiccups along the way, especially since insurance companies are complaining the site still spits out errors and bad data on the back end, making it difficult to process the applications.

But finally signing up is a huge relief.

If you want coverage by Jan. 1, you must enroll by Dec. 22.

If you're still looking to window-shop for general prices and plan details, you can do so here: https://www.healthcare.gov/find-premium-estimates/

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