This past week, when the House GOP voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act for the 50th time, I was surprised to learn that the ACA is going to let me keep both my job AND my healthcare.
You see, the past several years as I approached 62 and Social Security retirement I've been getting by with a part time job, all I could find here in rural southeast Arizona, and with government assistance: Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Earned Income Credit to lower my tax bill. Well, I turned 62 in late December and received my first Social Security payment in late February. I had so been looking forward to it - now I wouldn't have to budget so carefully and frugally, would have enough income to pay off modest credit card debt, and even eventually, hopefully, be able to replenish my modest, nearly depleted savings.
Well, late February was also my time to renew my Medicaid and Food Stamps (SNAP) with the state. When my interview with the state employee was concluded she informed me that my Social Security and part time job put me over the maximum income level, and I will lose my Medicaid and Food Stamps at the end of March. My initial reaction was anger, and then self pity. Follow me over the orange squiggle as I explain what I decided to do about it
As I drove home from the interview thinking about what I could/should do I decided to try HealthCare.gov, primarily to confirm that I was indeed ineligible for Medicaid, as I didn't have much confidence in my state interviewer. Long story short, the state upgraded their web site for applying for or renewing all benefits programs, and it's still buggy & quirky, and the interviewer had none of the income & expense information I'd spent 45 minutes filling out and uploading supporting documentation on the state website. So I get home, fire up the PC, and go to HealthCare.gov. I was impressed, it's breeze these days, and leaps and bounds ahead of the separate Arizona state website for applying for government benefits. (While Arizona opted for expanded Medicaid, it didn't opt for its own Health Care Exchange). I fill out all the information with ease and it generated and Eligibility Notice that read:
• Eligible for a tax credit ($468.00 each month, which is $5,616.00 for the year).There's also an explanation that said "if you’re eligible for a tax credit or cost sharing reductions, it means that we didn’t find you eligible for Medicaid." As I reviewed the information it was clear that it's the part time job that puts me over the income level for Medicaid (and likely SNAP/Food Stamps).
• Eligible to purchase health coverage through the Marketplace
• Can choose a health plan with lower copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles (05)
An explanation of my situation: I earn a whopping $7,500k a year from my part time job, a little more that $600 per month in take home pay. My Social Security income that just started puts me at just over $21k combined annual income, about $5k over the 133% of FPL (Federal Poverty Level) for single adult household for the ACA Expanded Medicaid we are fortunate to have here in Arizona. So, my first reaction is: 'Well, I'm going to have to quit the job'. For a job that pays me a little more than $600.mo. take home pay I'd lose $189/mo. in food stamps, and I figured private health insurance would cost several hundred per month. Working for $600 per month to lose around $400-500 per month in benefits doesn't make a lot of sense, irregardless of one's sense of personal responsibility. It's just simple math.
There's just one little problem: I really, really like my job, and think it's important to my health and well being. So what is this job I enjoy so much? I'm a garbageman, a 'Dump Dude', as a young guy talking on his cell phone once referred to me. I work for the county Dept. of Solid Waste, running one of their rural trash & recycling stations. Wait, it's not as yucky as it may sound. I don't have to deal with the trash, just collect the fee and direct patrons to a roll-off dumpster. Well, my area is primarily a retirement community and if I have time I do help the more frail elderly dispose of their trash, but that's my choice - I'm actually not supposed to help. And we do have a great recycling program - in 2011 (shh!, with stimulus funds) the county bought several solar powered compactors that lowers the county's transportation costs by compacting several tons of recyclable material into a single bin. It's not connected to the electric grid, it's powered completely by the sun. The health & well being part? Well, my Medicaid healthcare has (fortunately) primarily been preventive care, bringing my high blood pressure and high cholesterol under control. While I take 2 prescription meds for the blood pressure and one for the cholesterol, my and my Medicaid doctor's goal has been to eliminate the need for those meds through weight loss, exercise, and better diet. While I have a small shed for an office, at my job I'm mostly walking around in the sunshine and fresh air. That, combined with better diet and additional exercise has brought my weight from around 230 lbs. to just under 200 lbs. in the last 15 months. And it's worked - in my last checkup in January my BP high number was just above the desired range, while 'good cholesterol' is well in the desired range and my 'bad cholesterol' is well below the danger zone. Rural folks in general and retired folks in particular like to talk and interact with people they encounter, so a lot of my time on the job is talking and interacting with area residents. For an old fart who lives alone (with 2 wonderful dogs adopted from an animal shelter), that's also a positive impact on my well being.
So I decided I will try to keep my job if at all possible. I really don't mind losing food stamps - my food cost lowered significantly when I shifted my diet from meat and fried and/or processed food to rice, whole grains, fresh veggies & fruit, and minimum meat - and only poultry or fish. And I volunteer at a local community food bank and we regularly distribute surplus food that would otherwise go bad to the volunteers. So I get that assistance with food expense while at the same time giving back to the local community. So, I take the plunge into the HealthCare.gov to look at private insurance options with much intrepidation. I couldn't believe what I found. There were 74 plans available, from Bronze through Gold. I decided Silver plans offered the best value for my needs and situation, and found one that just seemed to good to be true - a Health Net Insurance Co. plan with $350 deductible and maximum annual out of pocket expenses of $2,250. As required of all ACA health plans, no charge for preventative care - with good luck and diligence in exercise & diet, that's all I'll need it for - with the essential assurance should I encounter a major medical event it won't bury me in a mountain of debt. My cost for this coverage? $37.55 per month! Yes, really. The actual cost is $505.55, it's the maximum credit of $468 per month for my personal situation that brings it down to only $37.55 per month. I compared this plan to other Silver plans and found this plan had as good if not better value than plans that would cost me $100 and more per month, after tax credit. I thought about it for a few days, and was concerned I was missing something. So yesterday I called the toll free number listed on my Eligibility Notice and quickly got through to a very courteous and professional representative. I gave her my information and she quickly brought up my account. I gave her the plan IDs of the 3 plans I was comparing and she quickly assured me the $37.55 plan was my best choice for a Silver Plan. I told her I just didn't understand how it could be so much less than other comparable plans, and she told me it was because of my unique situation - age of 60+, financial situation, possibly geographic location.
So, yesterday afternoon I took the plunge and enrolled in that plan. I'm covered!
So, to you Republican House guys & gals: Thankfully your 50th vote to repeal the ACA will still never see the light of day in the Senate. But stop and think just for a minute what you're doing - if you were successful in repealing the Affordable Care Act I would have no choice but to quit my job, sit on my butt and collect food stamps, Medicaid, and any other benefit programs I could get. Just like how your opposition to raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would prevent millions from rising out of poverty - and out of food stamps, Medicaid, etc. You wanna go after Welfare Queens? Great! Go after the real welfare queens - the corporations with billions in profits that receive millions in government subsidies and pay no or very little income taxes.
Now I know praising the Affordable Care Act here on the DailyKos is preachin' to the choir. Like most Kossacks, I supported its passage - while lamenting the lack of a single payer option. I just didn't realize how it would affect me so much for the better. But I didn't write this diary for my fellow Kossacks - I wrote it to thank the courageous hard work of Democratic House Representatives, Democratic Senators, and President Barack Obama for putting this legislation together, passing it, and signing it into law. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.