Sunday, December 22, 2013

Strangled By Red Tape - Our Journey to Insurance

Permit me to step from behind the notebook  and offer my personal experience. We've been slogging our way through the new health care marketplace, a fetid swamp of rotting bureaucracy populated by malicious trolls and frustrated angels.  The shining goal keeps us dragging ourselves forward. There it is, so bright, so beautiful, just beyond our grasp: health insurance!

I have been uninsured for two years. It was the first time in my life I've had no insurance and it's been scary. I left a state job with a great salary and great benefits to become a freelance writer. It's a long story but bottom line was I had to choose between my wallet and my health. I decided it was better to be poor and not sick. I made the right choice. You won't be surprised to hear that it wasn't long before I had to add another job, but real estate sales doesn't offer insurance either. So here I am, mid-fifties, in great health, but one broken leg or scary diagnosis away from financial disaster.

I looked into insurance. Of course I did - I'm a responsible adult. The cheapest insurance I could find was a terrible plan with high deductibles that was going to cost me a thousand dollars a month. I just didn't have a spare thousand lying around every month. So that meant going without and keeping my fingers crossed that I didn't get sick.

In case you're wondering, no, I couldn't be on my partner's insurance.

My partner is a musician. He's been one all his life. And musicians don't have health insurance unless they buy it themselves.  And the cost was exorbitant.

So the prospect of a government-regulated healthcare marketplace sounded like a great thing to both of us. We got on that website and got ready to enroll.

I actually didn't find the website to be that bad - the federal site directed me to the New York Healthcare Marketplace, where I answered all their questions and got to the point where I could choose a plan. Then I stalled.  I hadn't heard of most of the companies and the options chased each other around in my brain without pausing long enough for me to understand what they were.  So I waited for the smart one in our family to get involved so he could explain it to me.

What followed were two solid weeks of angry howls from his office.  Each day was the same: get on the phone and call the number to which the marketplace directed him. Hold for an hour or more. Finally reach a human and ask simple questions. Get the answers, then call the next number for the next step. Wait another hour or more. Begin the next step, then discover the first answers were wrong. Go back to step one.  Some days, rather than getting the wrong answer, he'd be told that they just didn't know the answer.

He's not a terribly patient man on the best days, but this experience sent him way over the edge. Some of the things he yelled after he hung up the phone were concepts I didn't even know were possible. On the plus side, I've learned a lot of new combinations of colorful exclamations. 

"I'm drained," he told me more than once. "This is the most exhausting thing I've ever done. And I'm getting nowhere."

Chasing your tail will wear you out.

I'd love to conclude this with a happy picture of us both holding our insurance cards. I may yet get to add that to this post. For now, I can tell you that I have been approved, I chose a plan, and I'm waiting to hear about the next step. I'm told that will happen in January. 

The best rate I could find was about $350 for a bronze plan - nothing special, but it's insurance. I just read a New York Times article where they discussed the cost of the health insurance under so-called Obamacare, and they maintained that a silver plan (that's better than bronze, you know) was about $300 or so for the average middle to lower income person. That's not my experience. If you can tell me where that plan is, please let me know.

But I'm not complaining. Bad insurance beats no insurance and $350 is a whole lot better than $1000 a month.

My exhausted partner? He's also supposedly signed up, but he has his doubts. He suspects it's been screwed up.

We're thinking it might be simpler to move to the UK.