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Healthcare.Govin’MeAHeadache

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“He doth me wrong to feed me with delays.” ~William Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus, IV, iii)

Last week I finally took the plunge into shopping for health insurance through the infamously inoperable http://www.healthcare.gov marketplace website.  I already waded through the world of health insurance woes back in June when I quit my job and had to buy a private/individualized plan.  Texas is one of the states that refused to set up state-run networks, so we have no choice but to go through the federal marketplace.  I think I will be able to get a subsidy to assist me with one of the new insurance plans due to my much-reduced income now, but that’s only if I can actually manage to enroll.

Yup, I’m one of the masses of people who is stuck in the healthcare.gov snafu.

The website let me create an application and I entered in all of the multiple pages worth of required information.  Then I signed electronically and submitted it, but had to step away from the computer for a while.  When I logged back in later, it told me that my application was incomplete and asked me to re-enter all the same information I’d already entered earlier.  Yet in another link on the site, it told me my earlier-submitted application had been received and was complete.  It said I had to view my eligibility results before I could shop for a plan, but when I clicked on the link to do so, nothing happened.

So, I re-entered all the required information again. Five more times, actually.  Because each time, when I got to a certain point, it took me to an error screen saying the system was down and to please try again in 30 minutes.  I’d wait that amount of time and try again, only to get the same message.  I finally clicked on the Live Chat Support button and was instructed by an agent named Jacob that he would take note of my frustrations and concerns (really?), but that to get any actual assistance, I needed to call the support phone number on the website. (Apparently their Live Chat option really is meant to just chat, rather than help.)

error

“Temporarily,” that’s funny.

So I called the support number, and after going through the automated phone tree that couldn’t understand anything I said (and refusing to complete a customer survey at the end of the call), was hung up on before even getting to a real person.  I called back again, this time agreeing to complete the end-of-call survey (hmmm), and lo and behold a real person finally came on the line.  Shaneece listened to my situation and then told me “Ma’am it’s because the system is down again, mine is too.  In order to proceed you need to clear all cookies, bookmarks, and browsing history from your computer, then restart the whole machine, or else it won’t even think of letting you do anything.”  Huh?

Nothing on the healthcare.gov website had even mentioned cookies or browsing history being an issue or a recommendation if having problems.  But, I did what Shaneece recommended.  And nope, it still didn’t work.  Nine hours later, I was still getting the same error message and was still unable to view my eligibility results.  In 2013, the most technologically-advanced time in history, it looks like I’m going to have to go fill out a paper application at a help center, turn in it, and wait weeks to hear back on what plans I might be eligible to enroll in.  Which I still probably won’t be able to do online.  I may even have to go hunting for an actual STAMP at some point in time (do they still sell those?).

Yup, this is about right. (From US News)

Yup, this is about right. (From US News)

Many of you probably also saw a recent news story about a few guys in California who, in a matter of HOURS, created a completely functional website (www.thehealthsherpa.com) that would let anyone instantly compare premiums for the different health insurance plans available through the marketplace, as well as find out how much of a subsidy you might be able to get.  Very few can even get past the initial bugs in the federal site to view this vital information, but these guys were able to throw it together in less than a day’s time and it actually works all the time.  You can’t enroll for a plan on their site (YET), but you can do your plan shopping and get all the pertinent information you need to then try to somehow enroll through the government’s archaic system.  Why in the world aren’t these guys being employed by the government (and paid lots of deserved money) to make the main site WORK?  Baffles the mind.

I’m not one of those people who gambles on not having health insurance.  But then I’ve never really had to worry about it until now; I was always lucky enough to have it provided through my employer for the past twenty years.  It amazes me to run into people my age who decide to run that risk though; the last few months, I’ve encountered quite a few of them.  And I realize it is a significant cost; I guess if you can’t pay for it, you can’t pay for it.  But in the land of healthcare-cost induced bankruptcies, it’s too scary to me to not budget for it and make sure I have coverage for that just-in-case scenario that may pop up as I get older.

One of the most frightening aspects of quitting my job six months ago was the thought of not having employer-provided benefits.  Deciding to cut loose that safety rope (noose?) was extremely difficult, but it was my choice all the same.  I must reap the consequences, but I also believe that there should be other realistic and affordable options for people who want to break free and try to make it on their own.  Isn’t it ironic that we shake off the suffocating company ropes just to then be metaphorically strangled by constrictive government red tape through a system such as healthcare.gov?

red tape

I’ve worked for all levels of government in my life: local/city, state, and federal. I’m fairly used to red tape actually; not much about it surprises me anymore. Getting bogged down in bureaucratic nonsense is frustrating but feels weirdly familiar, which is a little discomforting. Have I gotten too accustomed to the static non-pace of life as a public employee?  Going forward, can I wear the half-cloak of public service while also stirring the pot of privatized entrepreneurship? A tangled web indeed.

I hope the President and his team can get this embarrassment figured out soon.  Actually, I think he just needs a whole new team – there are a few guys in California who I think may be ready to step up.

Hope some of you are having better luck than me if you’re trying to enroll for a plan.  I’d say keep your fingers crossed for me, but I wouldn’t want you to develop arthritis as a result, which may or may not be paid for by your insurance plan.  Just some good mental mojo sent my way will suffice, thanks.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Wormhole Take Me Away…

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“Too well, too well I feel the different plague of each calamity….”  ~ William Shakespeare (King John)

Part of the reason that I quit my job a few weeks ago was that it made me sick – literally and figuratively – and I simply felt bad almost all the time.  The job required that I be in elementary schools all day, every day; after three days in one school, we’d move on to another.  From the very first week on the job, my immune system was overwhelmed with a constant barrage of viral and bacterial assaults launched by the in-your-face sneezing and coughing of all those adorable little germ warriors (kids).  I salute the teachers out there who have hardened immune systems of steel from years of battlefield exposure, I don’t know how you do it!

I would get over one cold and be well for about a week or two before the next one would start.  I started lugging around several liters of my own water from home each day after a coworker pointed out to me that the kids were putting their mouths directly on the water spouts of the water fountains I was using to refill my bottles.  (Why is this still happening and why hasn’t someone invented a water fountain that won’t allow this?  Scientists, get on that please.)   Another coworker told me she stopped tying kids’ shoelaces after she knew someone who got a nasty fungal infection from doing the same thing. 

We should be paying our teachers and school staff in bars of gold, by the way.

My close friends and family that really know me also know that I’m a bit of a germophobe, although I’ve gotten better about it in recent years (yes I have!).  Still, this was a pretty tough aspect of the job for me to handle.   When the flu started spreading like wildfire last fall I began reminding the kids to cover their coughs and sneezes vampire-style, but was told by my supervisor to stop doing this (it wasn’t part of our rote 45-minute memorized lesson, so epidemic prevention be damned).  Despite my best measures (I really need to buy stock in hand sanitizer companies), it always seemed to be a losing battle for me. 

I spent Christmas Day morning in Urgent Care with a bad case of bronchitis and strep.  I caught a nasty norovirus one time that sucker-punched me out of the ring for a while (intestinal woes that you do NOT want to hear about, trust me).  And then at the end of March, I came down with a particularly nasty bug that caused me to do something I’ve never done before:  I called 911 in the middle of the night because I’d woken up feeling as though my throat was closing up and I couldn’t get enough air.

The very nice and handsome EMT and ambulance workers who showed up at my house were there all of five minutes before they deemed me to simply have a bad case of – wait for it – laryngitis.  Caused by the upper respiratory infection I’d come down with, but still just plain ol’ laryngitis.  Was I embarrassed?  If I’d had a lever I could have pulled to open up a wormhole to another galaxy in my living room, I would have dived in all Greg Louganis-style.  Especially after the guy taking my pulse ox rate remarked “cute candy cane pajamas.”

Wait for me, Picard.

Wait for me, Picard.

My Dad – who had practiced his Indy 500 speed skills getting to my house after I’d called him to croak out in a weird froggy-sounding voice that I was calling an ambulance – then took me to a 24-hour clinic where another cute medical professional gave me a cortisone shot and a Rx for steroids and sent me on my merry groggy way.  Luckily it was nothing too serious, but it was one of the final straws in my decision to finally quit a job that was making me miserable in more ways than one.  It’s hard to be UNunhappy when you’re sick all the time.

By the way and a heads up:  I was told that most emergency services (ambulance, EMT) are almost always considered out-of-network for insurance purposes.  I don’t know if it’s true everywhere or not, but I didn’t know that before I picked up the phone and called that night.  I imagine it’s the last thing on people’s mind when they need true emergency help – as it should be.  But I was in shock many weeks later as I opened two bills totaling $725.00 – the portion my insurance would refuse to cover.  For 5 minutes of evaluation EMS provided at my home that night and no transport.  That my insurance wouldn’t cover because the responders were out-of-network.

But here’s the restore-your-faith-in-humanity part of the story:  When I called the EMS billing service to inquire about the bill breakdown and payment plans, a nice man named Bruce asked me if I had secondary insurance that could cover my part of the bill.  I said no, and told him that actually, I was about to be unemployed.  He then told me he was going to waive the remaining part of the EMS bill, because that was their policy if people didn’t have enough insurance coverage to pay the balance.  He said “We don’t ever want anyone to NOT pick up the phone and call 911 in the middle of the night when they feel they need it – like you did – because they’re worried they can’t pay for it.  We’re here to help you.”

I think my very intelligent-sounding response was along the lines of “Wha?!?”  I was incredulous, and told him so, and then thanked him profusely.  I actually asked him, was this an American company and policy, in the land of healthcare-induced bankruptcies that we hear so much about all the time (Yes it was.)  It was a very welcome glimmer of humanity and decency in the shadowy underground that is the U.S. healthcare industry, and I was extremely grateful for it.

Now that I quit my job, I’m having to wage another battle: not on germs this time (well, ok, that’s ongoing), but on convincing healthcare insurance companies that I’m worthy of being insured as an individual.  Companies that will increase your monthly premium by $64 per month if you went to the chiropractor one time for one episode of minor back muscle pain.  Companies that penalize you instead of rewarding you for wanting to improve your mental and physical health.  The mere act of applying for individual coverage suddenly launches you into a world of criminal-like suspicion, it’s crazy.

After I applied to several different health insurance vendors, many of them called me for underwriter investigations.  One company actually wanted to know the day of my last period and if it was a “normal” one…how did this ever become any of their damn business??  And Mr. Underwriter, when it comes to describing that painful part of every woman’s existence – you simply can’t handle the truth.  Evidence: this hilarious video by UK company BodyForm in response to a pseudo-frustrated boyfriend’s Facebook post (it’s well worth your time!):

Another underwriter suspiciously questioned the fact that I said I’d lowered my cholesterol by losing nearly 50 pounds, implying that they thought the only reason I could’ve lost that much weight was by being sick, not because of individual hard effort and just wanting to be healthier.  I was glad it wasn’t a Skype call so they couldn’t see the gesture I made to them during our conversation.

It’s all pretty discouraging and frustrating, but I’m not letting it get me too down.  I knew this would be one of the consequences of quitting my job, and short of moving to England or France’s land-of-socialized-medicine tomorrow, it’s just something I’m going to have to deal with.

I feel really lucky in my life that I’ve never had very serious health problems, knock on wood.  (Well, there was that one time I nearly died after a mugger pushed me over a bridge, but that’s a story for another post.)  I usually always made them out to be more serious in my mind than they were in real life, but I’m getting better at that too.  I’ve already survived some pretty tough times in my life, so I know I’m a strong person that is hopefully capable of handling whatever may come. 

With or without a wormhole.

pooh1

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

 

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