Thursday, January 8, 2015

Adventures in Obamacare

Welcome to 2015! Do you know where your health care is? I thought I was covered, but now I’m not sure. Pull up a chair and let me rant to you about it:

On December 1 I got onto the Healthcare Marketplace site to look at quotes. I didn’t sign up. I just wanted to see what they were charging. Before they’d let me peek behind the curtain, I had to fill out my contact information at least four times. Then I saw what even cheap programs cost, got discouraged, and decided to sleep on it and start fresh the next morning. Or so I thought.

Before I left the library I’d already gotten two spam emails offering me health insurance. That was just the beginning. By the time I got home the phone was already ringing. Those sharks don’t waste a second when they smell money in the water.

The first guy I talked to who wasn’t a computer seemed nice until I explained I didn’t have health coverage because I haven’t worked in four years and had no money to pay for it. He hung up on me in the middle of a sentence. That’s customer service for you.

After another few robocalls I stayed on the line with a real human being named Dana. She understood my financial situation and we got to chatting. Before I knew it, she’d logged me on to the Marketplace and we were off and running.

To my surprise, things went fine. She found a decent program for me, at a name company (Highmark) and even less than the price I’d quoted. The only snag was the Accidental Death coverage. I don’t have any dependents and, quite frankly, I don’t give a damn about funeral expenses because I won’t be around. Let the state sell off my property to cover costs. I explained to Dana I neither needed nor wanted Accidental Death coverage. She explained the best she could do was get the cost reduced. With (supposedly) no choice, I agreed. It had to be signed for, but I couldn’t do that either (no cell phone, no home Internet). Dana said her supervisor could get around that if I gave my okay. I okay’d it. By the time we parted ways, I had health insurance.

First rule when buying anything: Trust No One.

Right after I hung up it occurred to me: Was this a legit outfit, or did I just give personal information to a scammer? That personal info included access to my checking account. I wanted to pay for this by check, upon receiving paper confirmation (and a bill) in the mail. Nope, Dana said, can’t do that. The insurance companies want their first payment up front, as a sign of good faith. They don’t want to get burned. The customer getting burned isn’t their concern. So, if I wanted government mandated health care, I didn’t have any choice.

I can see the point of this—if you’re stuck in the hospital or comatose or something and can’t write a check, the insurance company wants to make sure it still gets its monthly take. Otherwise they’ll dump you, and there goes your coverage. This has led to at least one case of a woman who died and whose body wasn’t discovered for five years because all her bills were on automatic payment. Nobody came looking for her until the money ran out. But I digress.

So I did a little Internet digging. The Marketplace had me on file, as Dana had promised. So far, so good. Highmark has an 800 number. I called their customer service desk and discovered I was indeed in their system, so that was legit. They quoted a price that was half what I’d been told. Oh, I thought, Dana found me an even better deal after we hung up. Half price isn’t a gift horse I’m going to look in the mouth of. I settled in to wait for the paperwork.

And now the fun begins.

Later that same week, around December 5, I went to the bank to warn them the insurance company would be taking its cut on a monthly basis and it was legit and not robbery. Then we took a look at my checking account. That’s when I discovered Highmark had been in my money already, and withdrawn the amount they quoted me. So had Mutual of Omaha, which took another chunk. The two amounts, added together, equaled what Dana had quoted me.

Note the timing here. I signed up on Monday night, December 1. On December 3 two insurance companies stuck their hands in my till and took payment for coverage that wasn’t even supposed to start until January 1. They must have really wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to stiff them.

Yeah. Them. Mutual of Omaha doesn’t do health coverage. They’re life insurance. This was the Accidental Death coverage. The one I specifically told Dana I didn’t need or want, that I was led to believe was part of a health package, that she swore she couldn’t do anything about. It’s a whole separate policy from a whole separate company. For the record, Accidental Death coverage is not required under the Affordable Care Act.

Dana earns a commission based on how much insurance she can sell to the unsuspecting. Remember what I said about trusting no one?

The next day I called Dana back. Didn’t get through. After my second attempt, where they put me on hold for twenty minutes, I hung up and tried a third time. This time I got her supervisor. I explained I wanted to cancel the Accidental Death coverage. The first words out of his mouth were, “You never authorized that.” “Well, somebody must have,” I replied, “because they took their payment already.” He got real quiet, and then he got real helpful. He assured me it would be cancelled and they’d take care of everything. Later that evening Dana called me back and she made the same assurances. They’d get on the horn to Mutual of Omaha and nix the policy. My money would be returned to my account in three to five business days.

Two weeks later I checked my account again. No deposits from Mutual of Omaha. No paperwork in the mail from either them or Highmark.

I tried calling Dana. Twice. Both times the phone rang a dozen times and then the recorded voice told me they were really busy and to leave a message. That second time I tried to get an operator. Even they weren’t picking up.

Well, I can do end runs too. M of O’s web site gave me an 800 number. After getting transferred around a couple of times I finally made it to Customer Service. A lady named Rita found me still in their system, with no notices my policy had been cancelled or any notes referring to a refund. Thanks for nothing, Dana.

Rita went ahead and cancelled my policy. She told me the refund would be arriving by check in about two to three weeks.

Said I: “You guys took your money out of my account within 48 hours.”

Said Rita: “It’s company policy to pay all refunds by check. The mail’s really busy right now, what with Christmas and all.”

So that’s where that stands. I won’t know for sure the Accidental Death coverage has been cancelled until I get a check in the mail, hopefully around the middle of January—more than a month since they yoinked the money, and at least a month after I was told by both Dana and her supervisor they’d handle it for me. Trust no one.

Meanwhile, back at the health insurance …

After settling affairs with M of O, my paranoid brain got to wondering: Dana hadn’t cancelled the life insurance. You don’t suppose she cancelled the health insurance by mistake?

Back to the phone, this time to Highmark. Damn good thing I called them, too: their records showed they’d never received any information from the Healthcare Marketplace. Hence they’d never mailed me any paperwork—you know, like a policy or an ID card to show to hospitals, or anything to sign to make it official. None of which had stopped them from grabbing their payment the second they had my routing number.

Highmark transferred me over to the Healthcare Marketplace. I explained the situation to some girl whose accent I could barely understand. Fortunately I had an ID number I’d gotten during one of my other calls. I was still in their system over there. She didn’t know why Highmark never got the info. It must have gotten lost or something. Or maybe it never got transmitted. Apparently once everybody had their money in hand, I the paying customer got shunted to the back on the line.

Well, she sent it again, or so she said. It should take me—hang onto your butts—30 days to get the paperwork in the mail. In theory, I have health coverage because I signed up within the allotted dates. I just can’t prove it. I’d better hope I don’t get sick until after the beginning of February.

Let me remind everyone one more time: both insurance companies took their payments within 48 hours of my December 1 phone chat with Dana. We’re now into January and I still don’t have a health insurance policy. Trying to pry my money loose from Mutual of Omaha—which technically they stole, since I never signed anything—has proven equally frustrating.

Highmark did assure me I’m covered. I better be. I paid for it.

That’s where we are right now. If nothing’s arrived by the end of January, I’ll have to get on the phone again. And keep a close eye on my bank account. Mutual of Omaha said they cancelled the policy, but so did Dana and her supervisor. I might get billed again even if it is cancelled. This is why I still write checks and don’t go in for automatic payments. Once they start dipping into the well, it’s hard to get them to stop.

Now that it’s all over, it finally occurred to me I could have gone to my in-town insurance company, the one that handles my car and homeowner’s insurance, and talked to somebody face-to-face about health coverage. Bet they would have helped me out, or steered me toward someone who could. Twenty-twenty hindsight.

One other side effect: ever since December 1, I’ve been getting more and more spam emails. Along with insurance companies, I’ve heard from Walmart, Target, McDonald’s, car dealerships, those new vapor cigarettes, Dr. Oz, and people offering to check my credit score. Remember how I had to input my contact info before they’d let me look at a quote? Somebody somewhere is making extra pocket change passing on those email addies to businesses. Y’think?

On the upside, the government is paying for the bulk of my alleged health insurance. Thank you, American taxpayers. You folks have jobs, presumably with employer-provided health care, so you don’t have to go through all this crap. I’m just going to hang on until 2016, when a Republican president will get into office and cancel Obamacare. And I’m paying cash for everything. Enjoy your day.


Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, sorry to be the bearer of more bad news. However OBUMMER HATE CARE is now OBUMMER-BONER HATE CARE, given the Republican congress has absolutely refused, by Boehner's own words, to do anything about mandated health care. They could un-fund it, but they aren't going to do that... and DON'T COUNT ON a Republican president doing anything other making things a hundred times worse. The medical system is collapsing. It's all about their insurance buddies pillaging the American people. SORRY AGAIN. And like you say TRUST NO ONE!!! when it comes to any gov-corp program.

"On this Tuesday, January 6 edition of the Alex Jones Show ... Social media has exploded in opposition to Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), who faces re-election as House Speaker and has gained millions from owning stocks benefiting from Obamacare."

Pat C. said...

I didn't sign up in 2014. I only signed up this year because the penalty for no coverage is going up to $200-$300 or so for 2015, or (if this is still true from 2014) 1% of your income, whichever amount is larger. I'm hoping to earn enough to live on this year, which means if a miracle happened and one of my books hit it big, I'd be on the hook for thousands. If the program had actually made health care affordable I'd have bought my own, but that's not what it's about. It's about shifting the responsibility to pay for the uninsured onto the taxpayer. Everything that's actually wrong with the system hasn't even been touched.

Here's what I predict will happen in 2016: we'll get a Republican president, who'll rescind the mandatory part. However, people with jobs will find a new deduction in their paycheck: the Federal Healthcare Assistance Tax, or whatever they choose to call it. Because that's all Obamacare is: a tax on workers so hospitals and insurance companies don't have to take a hit when poor people get sick. John and Jane Public now have to, and will have to from now on.

Did you know most hospitals are for-profit? I wasn't aware of that until recently.

Savanna Kougar said...

For-profit started way back when... what was it called? I'm having brain glitch... but when they changed over to co-op style healthcare, where insurance companies could say if you got treatment or not. My sister had an injury and went to an emergency room... they wouldn't treat her until her insurance company okay-ed it... at that turnpoint it was all downhill... plus hospitals lie about the fact that they are supposed to treat the poor for free... that was/is the law.

As far as the penalty, it's a lot less than paying for socialized death-panel care, which is what OBUMMER HATE CARE is partly... if you're senior-citizen age, you will be denied life-saving healthcare, according to the bill itself... so, why pay for what you're not going to even get??? Or worse, they'll use you as a lab rat, which they are now 'legally' allowed to do without your consent... walking into a hospital gives them consent.

As far as making it another tax on workers, that could be. However, there aren't enough workers to pay for the system. Plus, WHAT THEY REALLY WANT IS DIRECT ACCESS TO YOUR BANK ACCOUNT!!! Oldsters have already had their bank accounts raided and emptied under OBUMMER HATE CARE when they're in the hospital. And that's just the mere beginning of the healthcare horrors about to happen... republican president or not. Good luck, everyone!

Pat C. said...

This is why I keep the bare minimum (for monthly expenses) in my bank account.

Of course, if you have a job and the coverage that comes with it, all this is moot. It's when you don't have a job, or work part-time or are self-employed, that it starts getting tricky.

Now that Obama's forgiven the undocumented aliens for being here illegally, will they be required to get health coverage?

Savanna Kougar said...

Yeah, bare minimum is good! I do the same... but then technically I'm poor. However, if you have any other kind of account, if the circumstances play out right and you're hospitalized, 'they' are likely to get hold of those funds too.

Not really moot, if you're employed, because a whole lot of employers can't pay the ever-larger amounts insurance companies are charging... so it all avalanches down to less and less people in the work force, and failing businesses... did you know that a million people each month are losing their jobs, not to mention all the companies now going to part time so they don't have to pay for insurance of OBUMMER HATE CARE...

The illegal aliens are being taken care of WITHOUT HAVING TO DO ANYTHING OR PAY ANYTHING right now. Hospitals give them priority because the gov will pay the bill... or the taxpayers are paying. If illegals become actual citizens, and have a good-paying job, then they'll pay through the employer, or if they get an independent plan. However, I suspect that will be minimal.

Besides, doctors are quitting en masse right now because of mandated health care, and the whole medical system is failing on several fronts... so, even if you have coverage, will there be care when you need it?

Whatever... if you suddenly need health care now, you may luck out. However, many ARE NOT lucking out now, despite signing up and/or have insurance. They simply get royally screwed.

Pat C. said...

Yeah ... insurance is a boon when you need it and a bitch when you don't. I was lucky enough to have a full-time job with benefits the last time I needed major surgery. I ran out my deductible on the pre-surgery tests, so insurance ended up paying for it. Otherwise I would have been hit with a $14,000 bill. On the other hand, I've been both incredibly lucky and relatively healthy my entire life. Most of the time I haven't had or needed health coverage. However, I'm getting older every year. Who knows? This may end up as one of those "boon" times.

Meanwhile ... I mentioned that co-worker I ran into, who got laid off from her job of 12 years because she got too old and expensive. She's one of those people who's going to get slammed with either high payments or high penalties because up until September she was making a good salary and therefore won't qualify for rebates. Well, she'll be poor by 2016, so she'll probably be able to get government assistance then.

Savanna Kougar said...

Like I said I'm lucky in the fact that any kind of medical care/drug would kill me, most likely, given my severe allergies to all that stuff. So why pay for what would only kill me anyway? Yeah, I've never had any kind of major surgery, thank the Divine and *knock on wood*. There might have been a time in my youth where I could have survived it, but heck the 'truth serum' stuff I had for dental surgery when I was 19 came close to doing me in. It was horrible!!! And that's not the only instance of a severe reaction where I came too close to death. Or worse, being in some sort of vegetative state.