Nerds build alternative to that works great



As a self-insured weirdo, I have been looking forward to the state insurance exchange feature of Obamacare for three years now. Unfortunately October 1 brought me no succor, as the federal insurance exchange website,, does not work. Even the way in which it doesn’t work does not work. The cycle of errors and try-again-laters sets in during the account creation phase, which is for some reason the first step. You can’t see the insurance plans in your area until you log in, and you can’t log in until the federal government figures out how to work the internet. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, three 20 year-old programmers have developed an alternative website that works perfectly.

It’s called HealthSherpa, and it shows you the plans first. You enter your age and zip code, and bam: all the plans available to you, with prices. Compare this to the first step on, which is to choose between “Apply online” and “Apply by phone.” Everything you need to know about the health exchange website debacle is right there in that splash screen and the first question it asks internet users: do you want to apply by phone?

You can also click on “see plans now,” which takes you to 750 words of text explaining that you can see available health plans after you fill out some personal information. “Now” means “later,” and “see plans now” differs from “apply online” in that it takes slightly longer to get to the plans. In theory it does, at least. In my trial run at this morning, I never actually got to the plans.

I found the screen that says until tomorrow morning, I can fill out my application online, but I have to come back later to submit it. That stopgap seems like it would create more confusion than simply not allowing people to fill out applications until tomorrow, but I’m not a web developer.

Michael Wasser, Ning Liang, and George Kalogeropoulos are web developers, though, and their HealthSherpa site is fantastic. After five weeks of trying and failing to find insurance through, I decided on a plan using HealthSherpa in literally five minutes. It costs $15 a month more than the plan I have now, but unlike my current plan it covers doctor visits, prescriptions, vision and mental health.

So thank you, government, for bringing me health insurance reform. Also screw you, government, for being unable to build with millions of dollars and hundreds of contractors what three 20 year-olds made in a San Francisco loft. I am suddenly much less worried about the NSA.

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