Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Affordable Care Act and Me

I felt great relief when the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2009. Despite the perception that Americans routinely enjoy the best of everything, enormous gaps existed in our health care coverage.

Health care reform happened despite the formidable efforts of the well-financed health care lobby and its employees—fear-mongering conservative congressmen who instilled images of cold-blooded death panels in the panic-prone minds of their constituents. They insisted it was the road to a socialist hell.

Somehow, government running health care would be a giant step backwards from the accountants currently in charge.

Implementation has been even more difficult. Conservatives continue to fight it at every turn, and challenge it in any court that will listen. To date, nearly four-dozen attempts have been made to repeal it.

As a result, getting nationalized health care up and running has been like shooting a basketball with a gorilla hanging from your arms.

But it happened, and healthcare.gov went live in October of 2013.

Sadly, it has mostly lived down to its detractor’s predictions. The site was inoperable when it wasn’t inaccessible. Links didn’t work. Information wasn’t disseminated. There were billing snafus and miscommunications about policies and coverage. Its failures were (and remain) major news stories.

Against that larger backdrop, this is my experience. Despite initiating the application process three months ago, I remain without coverage.

I was an English major in college. That being the case, I defined ‘household’ as a group of people living at a common address. So when I encountered a request on the Medicaid application to list the members of my ‘household’, I dutifully listed the names of the three people who live with me.

The form immediately requested basic information about them as well.

Thing was, I didn’t realize the government's definition of 'household' meant only those parties seeking coverage. But given that definition, since I had already indicated I was only seeking coverage for myself, why was I even asked about my 'household'?

Perhaps the Department of Redundancy Department had nothing better to do.

I continued on my merry way, blissfully unaware of the fatal error I had committed. I clicked ‘save’ and ‘next’ like the computer savant that I am. And when I came to ‘submit’, I clicked that, too.

All done. Right?

One week later, I received a paper form requesting still-more information. Suffice to say an IRS audit would’ve been less-invasive. The only thing it didn’t ask was the net weight of high-fiber vegetables your little sister had consumed in her lifetime.

This, of course, ran counter to virtually everything I had been told about Medicaid. My finances and my finances only determined whether or not I was eligible. Not your sister’s fiber intake.

I called my local Department of Health. Then I called again. And again. And again. I called more times than Jennifer Aniston has been engaged. I left nice messages. And not-so-nice messages. I called in the morning and I called in the afternoon.

But I suspected I wouldn’t hear from anyone anytime soon. (Hey—you don’t suppose there’s a musical in all of this, do you?)

Then I considered an in-person visit. But I was advised the four-hour window I had before work was insufficient. And taking an unpaid day-off from what was already a low-paying, part-time job wouldn’t ever be an option.

Then I left a message requesting an extension, thinking the extra time would allow me to correct what was obviously a simple misunderstanding. But since this required actual communication, it was like putting ‘Cubs’ and ‘World Series’ in the same sentence. Oops.

Jean-Paul Sartre couldn’t conjure up a more hopeless scenario. So I let the application lapse.

Shockingly, the Department of Health contacted me (by mail—things weren’t getting that shocking!) and informed me that since I hadn’t provided the requested information by the required date, my application was being denied.

OK.

Flush with the inevitable optimism of the approaching new year and newly versed in government-speak, I submitted another application. But only after meeting with a certified, honest-to-goodness government health care representative (called a navigator) at my local library.

Of course, it took six attempts over the course of ten days before the site allowed me to complete it. I again clicked the ‘submit’ button, fully aware of the implications.

A happy message appeared, telling me that my application had been received and that I would soon be enrolled and enjoying healthcare coverage.

That was six weeks ago.

Nothing has shown up in my mail box. Nothing has shown up in my inbox. And I won’t even mention the telephone. And yet healthcare.gov tells me I am enrolled.

When I call or use the online chat function at healthcare.gov, I am alternately told my application is being processed, there is a log jam or that I simply need to call my local Department of Health office.

Yeah.

I tell them that is an act of abject futility. That I might as well attempt to calculate how many fastened buttons there are in the world at this moment versus unfastened ones.

This usually leaves them speechless.

No one can confirm exactly where I’m enrolled, or in what.

Maybe I’m going about this all wrong. Maybe I just need to research the government’s definition of ‘soon’. And ‘enrolled’.