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Viewpoint: Health care marketplace a marred experience

Liz Engel Clark
Wednesday, Nov 6, 2013

I logged in on a Wednesday, just your typical, run-of-the-mill cool-weathered fall day, a hair before the lunchtime strike. I entered my full legal name, email address (several times, actually), I picked a password and struggled to come up with easy-to- remember responses to the impossible- to-answer security questions. My identity was verified (thank heavens for that). More personal information was entered. And just like that, I was in. Welcome to the lauded land of the health insurance marketplace. So this was the fabled exchange.

It was a decently attractive site. But for some odd reason, I was expecting faux grocery store-like aisles, lined with binder-sized boxes, kind of like what you’d see in a Progressive car insurance ad. I was also looking for that all too common error message I had heard so much about – one that has everyone up in arms just weeks after the launch of the exchanges, a centerpiece of the so-called Obamacare – that’s prevented so many from signing up for the coverage they want and need.

Simply curious, I logged in a few days after President Barack Obama’s mid-October speech about the disappointments in the website, and the promises put forth to fix it. I guess they were still working on it; I didn’t get my error message, but I did get stuck. Then I had to log back in. And got stuck again. Then logged back in. Then got stuck. You get the drift. I’m not known as a particularly patient person (I mean, have you read my Viewpoints?), so I started to get frustrated. I’m also a fan of avoiding most things political, so I was hoping the “glitches” were just media hype, but my experience was real. I only gave my health care exchange experience 30 minutes tops, because I had more important things to do. I was on deadline, for goodness sake. Oh, the things us reporters will do for a story.

By the way, I’d love to hear from UCBJ readers who have logged into the exchange – whether because of an insatiable need to see it for themselves, like me, or to actually purchase insurance. My contact info is below.

Now for part II of this month’s column.

I’m sure you’ve all heard the reports. It was quite the shift from the efforts traditionally put forth to market Cookeville and the Upper Cumberland as an attractive place to be, so understandably, this was not shouted from the rooftops – but it went viral all the same. Supposedly, we’re, like, the poorest city in America. Well, to be technical, we’re the sixth poorest, according to Whatever that is.

The report pooled census data for the Cookeville micropolitan area, namely Putnam, Overton and Jackson counties, and found that the average income for those 106,498 residents was a measly $31,813 per year. In the poorest city, Lumberton, N.C., located south of Raleigh, average income was $28,293. Meanwhile, the median U.S. household income topped out at just more than $51,000. Since I’m writing this after the shutdown, I had the ability to verify the statistics used, but, of course, that’s not the true problem.

Obviously, not one of the 10 cities on the list wanted to lay claim to the report, and none was exactly thrilled with their ranking. Most countered in various outlets that their low cost of living makes much smaller salaries stretch farther. All pointed to what census data doesn’t say – the real meat-and-bones of a community – it’s educational, recreational and lifestyle opportunities. And we all know we have those here in the greater UC. So I don’t feel the need to air out the issue any more than that.

Of course, all that was just icing on the cake when it came to another top 10 list: the news that Tennessee was the most dangerous state in the country.

At least we’ve got that going for us.

Liz Engel Clark is the editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal. She can be reached at liz@

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