BY JAMES HUFNAGEL
As part of the implementation of the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly called “Obamacare”, an online insurance exchange was created to enable New York residents to purchase health insurance from private insurers participating in the new internet marketplace. Over 3.3 million New Yorkers purchased health insurance from “New York State of Health” before the December 15 deadline for coverage to begin on Jan 1, 2017, the vast majority using the convenient website to evaluate and choose their plans.
The New York State of Health web page has an odd quirk which, while probably escaping the notice of most users, could be interpreted as just another example of how the Cuomo administration caters to big money, big corporate interests at the expense of the average citizen.
Part of the registration process at New York State of Health requires the participant to supply an email address. Nothing nefarious here. Occasional notices and reminders from the state go out periodically to these email addresses. Some have little or nothing to do with health care or health insurance but are merely public service messages from Governor Cuomo mostly intended to remind us of what a great job he’s doing. A quick adjustment to one’s email preferences classifies these as “spam”. Problem solved.
Once in a while, however, and if you decide to let those emails through or are simply not tech-savvy enough to know how to block them, a terse, somewhat disquieting email with the subject line, all in caps, demanding that you “LOG INTO THE NY STATE OF HEALTH WEBSITE TO SEE IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR HEALTH COVERAGE” shows up.
“A notice has been sent to your inbox in your account,” it continues, “This notice tells you important information you need to know about your health coverage for you and/or your family… You must log into your account on the NY State of Health website to read the notice.” An email like this is sent out with each new notice. It’s like they really, really want you to go check your notices.
Individuals log on with their big brotherish-sounding “Personal NY.gov ID” – the one-stop shoppers’ carte blanche for all things state government.
Like innumerable other customer service-oriented web sites, New York State of Health communicates with users by means of a message system directly accessible from its home page. With a difference.
For example, normally, if you want to read messages from your online banking, credit card, mortgage or any number of other applications, the simple act of clicking on the message brings it up for you. The facility for reading the message is integrated into the site. Click on the message, and it’s instantly displayed without need of other software.
That’s not how it works on the New York State of Health home page. Click on “Inbox” and it tells you the following: “You can view all the messages and the notices from the Marketplace in your Inbox. You can view the message by clicking on the icon in the View column. If you want notices provided in another format due to blindness or visual impairment, call the Marketplace at 1-855-355-5777.”
Another reason to call that number could be cyber impairment, because that’s how you feel when you follow instructions and click the icon, but the message fails to come up. What’s more, your year-old HP laptop is telling you that you may not have any of the software necessary to read it. If you try reading it in a browser like Explorer, Chrome or Edge, or Wordpad or Notepad, it displays as unreadable computer gibberish.
Helpful Windows 10 suggests you read your urgent health care message from New York State with Adobe Photoshop, but alas, when you opt to download Adobe Photoshop to access New York State of Health’s “IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR HEALTH COVERAGE”, it tells you, “Your trial has expired. You can continue to use Adobe Photoshop by purchasing the software.”
The solution, of course, is not to be suckered into purchasing Photoshop, but to download and install free Adobe Acrobat Reader. You heard it here first, in the Reporter’s first and only tech column.
While we couldn’t track down any state contracts, campaign contributions or lobbying activity by Adobe Systems in New York State, it does have, according to Wikipedia, a “major development operation” in New York City, at three separate office locations on Broadway and 16th Street in Manhattan. With 3.3 million subscribers periodically steered to New York State of Health to read their messages, and Adobe as the recommended software to use to do so, you’ve got to wonder what’s in it for Gov. Cuomo and his burgeoning state healthcare bureaucracy.