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.