Sunday, June 29, 2008

And to think, we live in the richest country in the world.

That seems to mean that each of us individually is supposed to be rich, or else.

We've been over the details before.

When I left my lucrative but soul-sucking job, I left my fully paid health benefits with it. Thanks to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, I got to find out just exactly how much that fully paid health coverage was actually costing: $515 per month. I've been paying this monthly fee since April, and it hurts on several levels.

But at least I still have my healthcare, right? Well. On Monday, I finally got around to calling my ladydoctor. It was time for that annual date with the speculum that we all so look forward to, without which I would shortly be out of my magicpill.

"Hi, I need to make an appointment with Stephanie Lenzo?"

"Sure, I have appointments open this week."

"I can come Wednesday..."

"I have a 3:30 on Wednesday. Are you still on HealthNet?"


"Oh, we stopped taking that. On Friday."

You've got to be effing joking. This is some kind of trick, right? Ha ha ha, funny funny, we don't take the insurance that you're paying your former employer out the ass for, isn't that just hilarious. Man, if that wasn't a $250 joke, I don't know what is.

So now I'm stuck in this situation where I'm paying way more than I can afford for health insurance that my doctors aren't taking.And my main reaction to this is, wtf!? Does this strike anyone else as, I dunno, completely insane?

So many things in life feel as if they are actually just exercises in throwing money into a hole. Rent is a big one. You pay and you pay and you pay, and when you're done paying what do you have? Mmm, memories, and if you're lucky part of your security deposit? Yeah. But at least every month when you send out that crippling check you know, ok, I'm good for one more month. I'll have a place to sleep, a safe spot for my stuff, a roof over my head every single night until the next 1st of.

What does health insurance give you? Maybe you'll need it, and maybe you won't. Maybe it'll cover you, and maybe it won't. Either way you're paying bigtime. And if you ever really, really need them, you know what they'll do? Exactly everything in their power not to pay. They actually employ people whose specific job is to figure out why your claim isn't valid - anything from "pre-existing conditions" to improperly filled out forms. And god forbid you want to see the doctor who's best for you, rather than the one that's "in your network"...

OK. So this discovery about my coverage-that-doesn't-cover sent me into a downward spiral that landed me sitting in front of my computer at 2:30 in the morning, desperately searching for an answer. I did two things.

One was incredibly stupid. Given the nocturnal setting and my panicked state, my reasoning abilities weren't quite what they should have been. I foolishly gave every ounce of contact info that I have, phone number and all, to a web site that promised to deliver online quotes immediately thereafter. Well, the only immediate result was a redirection to the Blue Cross Blue Shield website that I had already found.

Discouraged, I... well... I may have dabbled in a teeny tiny bit of an action vaguely resembling something like insurance fraud. See, they have all of these really awesome affordable plans, but only for people who are "self employed". Since I do, kind of sort of almost, fit into that category, I gave it a shot. I told a minor fib before I got to the "sworn" part of the application. And I kept my fingers crossed.

The next day I felt the fallout of my hysteria. First, there were the phone calls. By 11am I'd received no less than four of them, all from representatives of different health insurance sales companies "congratulating" me on being "pre-approved" for a great "low-rate plan!" Each one hung up on me when I proved to be a cold lead. At least one of them yelled at me. I mean really. Yelled. Awesome sales tactic, man. Way to go. I've now received at least 11 calls, and apparently this is totally legal, regardless of the fact that when I gave them my information there was no indication that any calling would ensue. But that's probably a topic for another day.

Then there was the inevitable email: the one asking me for the tax documentation that proves I've made at least $10k via my self-employment. Um, shure, yeah, lemme pull those papers right outta my ass for ya. Did I briefly consider forging documents? Yes, yes I did. But sense got the better of me, and I figured fraud wasn't really the best option.

I tried instead the tactic of throwing myself upon the mercy of the insurance-gods. I sent an email back to the actual human that had sent me a response to my slightly fudged application. I told her that I didn't have the right documentation, and that I just really need some help.

You'll never believe what she did.

She helped me.

She told me about this thing called Healthy New York. It's subsidized by the state, but it's not like medicaid or something. It's real insurance through a real insurance company and it costs real money; that money's just about half as much as I'm paying for my COBRA. Since I'm making next to nothing and don't qualify for medicare, it looks like I qualify.

So maybe I've found some kind of answer. It's not the best healthcare plan; it won't cover any sessions of mental health or chiropractic, for instance, and I'm fairly worried that I won't be able to see my Fibro specialist. But... I have to do something. Being tethered to my former employer by a very expensive leash has been making me feel increasingly uneasy, and it's become very obviously not worth it.

And now for the really scary thoughts for the day. As is so often the case, in all of this mess I'm coming from a relatively privileged standpoint. I had a job that was giving me healthcare, from which I could get COBRA in the first place. I had savings to fall back on so that I could pay for it, and really when I say that I "can't afford" the COBRA I mean that I don't want to spend my savings so quickly. (There is of course more to it, but that's how it looks from a strictly monetary standpoint.) Also, the savings will run out at which point I'll have no means for which to pay, which is also another subject.

I was going through all of this with my therapist (whom I pay $60 a week to spend 45 minutes with), and all I could think is what it must be like to make $8 or $9 an hour working for an employer that doesn't provide healthcare. Not that I haven't been there, because I have. But I always had insurance through my parents at least, or doctors I could see at school, and I was only ever responsible for myself. What the hell do people do when there are children in the mix? Either they're on medicaid, or they're living in pure hell. Of course, if they're on medicaid there are plenty of people that will accuse them of leeching off of the system.

You mean they system that they're paying taxes into, even though they're not making enough money to pay rent, much less buy food? Yeah, that system. Hmm, how dare they think they deserve basic medical care? I mean, it's like they think they're actual human beings that deserve the same treatment that people with better paying jobs get. Geez, who do they think they are?

What sense does this make? It seems backwards. I think we should have a re-vamp. It could look something like this:
Under $40k a year equals fully paid health insurance with prescription coverage, $40k-$80k is subsidized, and anyone making over $80k and not supporting a gaggle of kids on that single income is just cut loose. Sound good?

People will say, oh, but some people get paid more because they're in more difficult positions. OK. You go work in the kitchen of a fast food restaurant for a month, on your feet in the heat and grease and noise, and tell me it's not difficult. Tell me how you feel at the end of the day.

And tell me how you feel about yourself when you get your paycheck for your 40 hours... and it comes in at just under three hundred bucks. Then you'll have to think to yourself, well, let's see. A visit to the doc clocks $250, but the electric bill is due and that's $75, and there's no food in the fridge. Guess that stabbing pain in my stomach is just going to have to wait.

I faxed in all of my info and forms for the new program on Friday. On Monday I'll be mailing off the last check for the COBRA coverage, along with a letter asking them to discontinue my insurance as of 8/1.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed - do I ever uncross those damn things? I'm starting to get a cramp.


Anonymous said...

good job jill r ... you found out: you got screwed twice ... once by cobra, and soon by healthy ny.
join the club. vote obama.

jinx. said...

1. I don't think Obama (or any other presidential candidate) is going to do much about this.

2. Who the hell is Jill R?