I was so excited to sign up for new health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s hard-won reform law that promised to bring premiums down and make insurance available to everyone, regardless of their prior medical history. My wife and I have been getting soaked for over $500 a month to insure ourselves and our son, so I eagerly logged onto to shop for a new plan as soon as the site went live on October 1.
Things did not go quite as smoothly as I’d hoped.
To begin with, the healthcare.gov website was down. At first, I got a “404 not found” error, but I kept trying. On the fifth or sixth try, I started smelling a weird metallic smell, and then my computer burst into flames! I quickly put out the fire, and decided to try calling the 800 number to sign up for Obamacare the old-fashioned way. After all, if my wife and son had been in the room, one of them could have been seriously burned, and who knows what that would have done to my premiums under my current plan? I got on the phone with a very friendly young lady named Amber, who promised to walk me through my options and get me signed up right away.
After getting my name, address, the outlines of my current plan, and what I could remember about my medical history, we got into the nuts and bolts. First, Amber said it looked like I would be able to find a plan comparable to what we already had… for $3,700 a month! After I picked my jaw up off the floor I told her, as politely as I could, that that was over seven times what we were already paying. So much for “Affordable!” Amber said she understood, and said that it was only a preliminary baseline figure, and that some other factors might help to bring it down. First, Amber gave me a web address for a list of doctors in my area to choose from.
I reminded Amber that my computer had just exploded, and anyway, I was happy with my current doctor and saw no need to choose a new one. She explained that I would have to choose a new one because Dr. Spellman, our family doctor, was out of the country indefinitely. I joked, “What is he, in Guantanamo?” and Amber didn’t seem to get my joke. She just cleared her throat and moved on.
Did I have any pre-existing conditions? I said that I didn’t, and neither did my wife. Amber said that pre-existing conditions are mandatory under Obamacare, and that I would have to choose one for each person on the plan. I chose Type 2 Diabetes for myself (I really need help curbing my sweet tooth), Hepatitis C for my wife, and Epstein-Barr syndrome for my son. Maybe now with his lowered energy levels the house will stay clean for more than an hour!
Amber said we’d each be administered with the appropriate pathogens at our first doctor’s visit. Then Amber asked about my parents and their medical histories. I told them about when my dad’s lung collapsed when I was a little kid, and my grandfather’s multiple rounds with cancer (which he ultimately beat — he died at 92 of unrelated causes). Amber listened patiently and then asked about their affiliation. “Affiliation?” I asked. “You mean what kind of insurance plan are they on? I dunno, I’d have to call and ask them.” Amber clarified that she was asking about their party affiliation. Puzzled, I told her they were both Republicans.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Amber said in her chipper customer-service voice. “It might be a good idea to talk to them as soon as you can and make sure their affairs are in order, and clear up whatever personal issues there might be between you.” She went on to explain that Obamacare’s political opponents were going to be, as she put it, “relocated.” I protested that though they didn’t agree with the law, they weren’t exactly Tea Party zealots either, and Amber said, “I can offer you an exception for a one-time penalty of $8,200, amortized over your first year of coverage.” I groaned, but quickly agreed, though I had no idea where I was going to get the money.
Amber snapped me out of that reverie when she said the exception would only be for one parent. “So which one will it be?” she asked brightly. (It was a tough choice, and one I prefer not to reveal until after the deed is done.) When I protested that all this was adding up to a figure I couldn’t possibly afford, Amber reassured me that I could sign over a portion of my son’s future earnings to help pay it back. I asked about subsidies: I had heard a lot about how Federal subsidies would bring costs down. “Absolutely,” Amber said. “You’ll need to enroll your son in one of your local madrassas, and once he passes a proficiency test in Arabic and the Quran, you’ll be eligible for a rebate of up to 20 percent. In the meantime, maybe look for a second job, because until you’re caught up on your premiums, your driver’s license will be suspended.”
I was about to argue the basic unfairness of all this when four men in white coats burst through the door, pinned my wife to the floor, and removed her appendix right there in the living room. Anyway, we finished up the enrollment about five hours later.
That night, we went to our favorite restaurant, only to find its owners had burned it to the ground and left the words “BLAME OBAMACARE” in flaming gasoline in the parking lot, and the next morning when I went to work I found I’d been reduced from full-time editorial work with salary and benefits to 90 minutes of janitorial work a week for whatever change I could scrounge from people’s cubicles.
I sure hope they get that website working soon…