What to do while you're waiting on the phone to buy health insurance


Adam Cecil

Adam Cecil

Former Staff Writer

Adam Cecil is a former staff writer for Policygenius, a digital insurance brokerage trying to make sense of insurance for consumers. He is a podcast producer, writer, and video maker based in Brooklyn, NY.

Published January 18, 2017|5 min read

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The open enrollment deadline to buy health insurance coverage for 2017 is January 31, and, if you’re anything like the majority of health insurance shoppers, you waited until the last minute to start shopping. Don’t worry – this is becoming an American tradition, like baseball games and apple pie and buying Christmas gifts on December 23.

Of course, because everyone waits until the last minute, the phone lines at the big health insurance companies are slammed this time of year. You can expect to wait on the phones for over an hour before getting through. This could be worse – I once waited on the phone with the IRS for three hours for a five-minute conversation – but we can all agree that being on hold for any amount of time is frustrating.That’s why we put together this list of things that you can do to occupy your mind while you’re waiting on hold to buy health insurance.

1. Get your income information together

One fun thing about buying a marketplace health insurance plan is that you can qualify for a subsidy, depending on your income level. The exact income level is different from state to state and depends on your household size – you can check if you qualify by running this calculator from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Note that your subsidy will be based on what you estimate your 2017 income will be, something that may be difficult if you’re a freelancer. If you estimate too low, you may end up paying some of your subsidy back, while if you estimate high, you may get some money returned to you in April of 2018.Get your proof of income together while you’re waiting on the phone, along with other information you need like a proof of identification and proof of your home address. For a full list of the documents you may need, read this checklist.

2. Update all of your passwords

You’re bored, waiting on the phone, and probably sitting in front of your computer, so why not take this opportunity to protect your digital life? We’ve all seen what the effects of poor password security were this year – looking at you, Podesta – and while you may not be working on a political campaign, your accounts are still incredibly valuable to hackers looking to make a quick buck. Check out our articles on password security, including my own very long article on the subject (don’t worry, it has pictures).

3. Shop for other types of insurance

While you’re thinking about health insurance, it’s not a bad idea to think about the other types of insurance you may need. Life insurance, renters insurance, even pet insurance – because pets deserve their own Pawbamacare – might be worth taking a look at. And since you’re already in the insurance mindset, you’re primed for taking a closer look at other products that can protect life and limb. Luckily, we’ve already put together a little Insurance Checkup that, with just a few questions, will tell you what insurance products might be missing from your safety net.

4. Watch a classic silent film

The worst part of hold music is that you need to listen to it in order to figure out when someone is coming on the line. This makes it impossible, or at least very distracting, to watch television or a movie. Luckily, before sound was invented, we had silent films. While you won’t find many silent films on Netflix, you can check out the streaming service Filmstruck, a partnership between Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection. Whether you’re watching the antics of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp or the mutiny in Battleship Potemkin, you’ll appreciate these films all the more with a lovely Muzak soundtrack.

5. Start your tax return

While you may not have all the paperwork you need for starting your taxes, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a head start. Working backwards from your pay stubs or your invoices, you already know how much money you made and how much you paid in taxes. Plus, you can do your deductions, which could lead to you getting a ton of cash back this spring. While you may need to double-check the numbers when your actual paperwork gets in, you might as well use this time to your advantage. The earlier you get your taxes in, the earlier you get that tax return.

6. Hop on the hype train for the Nintendo Switch

Nintendo released the NES in North America in 1985, which means that it’s more likely than not that your childhood was touched by a Nintendo system somewhere along the way. For me, it started with the Game Boy and the N64, and I am stoked to see Nintendo combine their handheld and home consoles into one new device: the Nintendo Switch. The new console is basically a tablet with two controllers on the side that can either be placed in a dock for TV play or taken on the road. The entire Nintendo Switch reveal presentation is a little over an hour, and ends with a fantastic trailer for the new Legend of Zelda game. Personally, I am very much on the hype train. Choo choo.

7. Watch paint dry

Find a can of some old paint in the basement, splash a little on the wall, and just watch it go! Most latex paints will be dry to the touch within the hour, but if you really want to commit to watching paint dry, you’ll find some oil-based paint, which takes six to eight hours to dry to the touch. Add your insurance company’s hold music as the soundtrack and you have yourself a lovely afternoon planned.

Whatever you do, stay on the line

You’re buying health insurance because you need health insurance. Not only do you need it because of the individual mandate, but you also want to make sure that you and your family can get the healthcare you need without worrying about your bank account. So whatever you do to entertain yourself while you’re waiting on the phone for your health insurer, don’t get frustrated and give up. Stay on the line, enjoy the Muzak, and pat yourself on the back for being responsible.