Elisabeth Smith is not a navigator hired by the Maryland's health exchange. She can't help anyone sign up for health insurance. Please stop emailing her.
Smith isn't sure who is handing out her personal email address, a Gmail account, and she asked exchange officials to stop months ago. But the messages kept coming, peaking in December at up to a dozen a day.
Similar pleas for help have finally stopped at the pottery supply business run by Sue Lunz in Seattle. She also was pressed into serving frustrated insurance shoppers in Maryland when her phone number was inadvertently listed on the exchange website.
This is just the latest among the myriad problems reported after the launch Oct. 1 of the Maryland Health Connection website, despite the efforts of Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration.
People attempting to sign up under the Affordable Care Act have experienced technical difficulties getting through the system, and navigators were supposed to help people through the process.
As of last week, 164,452 Marylanders had signed up for private health insurance or moved into the expanded Medicaid program. But there's no count of the number of people still hung up in the system or who gave up trying to get insurance because of the problems, though 1,407 households signed up for a program designed to give retroactive coverage to those stuck in limbo.
Messages from frustrated users of the exchange remain a bit of a distraction for Smith, who lives in Meadville in the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania and owns an aerospace manufacturing company called Acutec Precision Machining.
"I created a form email response that I copy and paste, and I can do it from my phone so there is a quick turnaround," said Smith of the 94 emails she's gotten since the October launch of the Maryland online marketplace for the uninsured.
"I get really nice responses back from people saying they're sorry and they're sorry on behalf of Maryland."
The Maryland Health Connection is looking into the matter and has yet to find anyone giving out the information, said Dori Henry, a spokeswoman for the exchange. There is no navigator in Maryland named Elisabeth Smith, and the exchange system doesn't assign navigators, she added.
Smith said she already received occasional emails for another Elisabeth Smith, one who works for Gov. Martin O'Malley's political action committee. That Smith has been splashed across the pages of New York tabloids for her relationship with former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
The Pennsylvania Smith reiterated that she's not that Smith either.
But that occasional source of amusement has been replaced by frustration. She wants the exchange customers to secure insurance.
She said her family business offers workers a generous plan. She believes the people in Maryland are appreciative that someone responded to them. She also graciously included in her response some proper contact information for exchange navigators whom she tracked down.
She always addresses each email with the person's name and sometimes even personalizes it a bit with words of encouragement.
Smith said she wasn't sure how the exchange could give her email to so many people and in all corners of Maryland — different organizations have been contracted to aid people according to where they live. People told her they were given the email in a message on the exchange site when they asked for help.
Smith felt a little of their pain in December when she spent an hour and 15 minutes on the phone waiting for someone from the exchange to help remove her email address. She was told her email was not in their records. Smith also tried one of the contractors, but they, too, said they didn't have her email.
"At that point, I didn't want to waste time calling all the other contractors and just resigned to my fate," she said.
Smith provided dozens of emails to The Baltimore Sun from people seeking assistance with the exchange. Several people griped about $3,500 bills, while others complained about not being able to pick a doctor or not even being able to create accounts. There were earnest pleas for help before enrollment deadlines. Many sent emails with personal information about their incomes and their disabilities. One included a Social Security number.
One email came from Beverly Collins, a physician living Baltimore whose insurance was going to expire.
Under the subject line, "Are you for real," Collins wrote on Dec. 27 at 11:30 a.m.: "I tried to sign up for insurance and your name is listed as a navigator but the phone number when called said it is a non-working number and the link to your email doesn't work from the website. What gives? What a disaster this whole site is."
Smith responded seven minutes later that was part form and part unique to Collins: "Worse news I'm afraid — and I spent an hour and a half on hold last month to try to fix this but nothing changed. So sorry but they have the wrong Elisabeth Smith on the website. I keep getting these emails but I don't live anywhere near Maryland."
Then she offered the real contact numbers and Web addresses, finishing with a "Good luck!"
Collins said later she appreciated that Smith directed her to help, though she said she was never able "to get through the busy signal." She eventually resolved her problems on her own and has since received a medical insurance card in the mail. She's still not sure she has dental coverage.
"This whole thing is a complete waste of money and resources for the state and for the people trying to get affordable health care insurance," she said of the health exchange.