Nearly all of my diaries are about the Great Outdoors. Seldom do I write about politics, because political writing does not come to me very easily. However, my recent experience is too important to pass up. Here’s my story.
My healthcare saga began in 2002. That’s the year that I left full-time employment and went into the cruel world on my own. No longer did I have a group plan selected by an employer. I had to shop for my own coverage. At first it was easy. When my COBRA coverage ended in 2003, I chose a $1,000-deductible plan that cost me about $210 per month. No big deal; I could easily afford it.
But each year the dreaded renewal letter arrived, and the premiums increased by leaps and bounds. In years when my age was divisible by 5, the increases were stunning in their scope. I could do the math. Before long, the premiums would be beyond my ability to pay.
I cheered when Obama was elected, and I cheered when Congress began to consider changes to our healthcare system. Then I watched in dismay as the debate wore on. Single payer was taken off the table, and the surviving proposals were watered down to suit the egos of various elected officials. The early provisions of the Affordable Care Act were of no help to me. Somehow, I needed to hold on until 2014. I didn’t make it that far.
In early 2011, I was paying $463 per month for a plan with a $2,600 deductible. In eight years’ time, my premiums had more than doubled, and so had my deductible. But the big shock was yet to come. When my renewal letter arrived, I was politely informed to begin remitting $756 instead of $463 – a staggering 63% increase. My health insurance was going to cost more than my house payment! That was my line in the sand. I had told myself that I would drop my insurance if it ever got that expensive.
Before letting go, I did two things. I went to my doctor for a thorough checkup, including a blood test. And I applied for a very-high-deductible plan that would keep my monthly payment in the $400 range. Given that I was still insured, the insurance folks got a copy of the blood test, which they proceeded to search line by line until they found something wrong with me. Out of two pages of data, there was a single thyroid reading was outside of “normal” range (side note: there’s nothing wrong with my thyroid; it was simply their excuse to make me pay that outrageous premium). They’d found their so-called preexisting condition, and denied me access to the new plan with the lower premium. With the help of my doctor, who wrote a letter on my behalf, I appealed.
I still remember where I was when I got the phone call. I had just driven across the country to do forestry work in the Pacific Northwest for three months. It was an utterly miserable July day on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. Rain was coming down, and all the trees and underbrush were soaking wet. Water was making its way through and around my rain gear. I’m about ten miles from the nearest cell tower, and barely had a signal. My appeal had been denied, said the distant voice. My choice was to pay the $756 premium or do without insurance. I said, “Terminate the policy.”
I stood there in the rain, wondering whether I was a genius or an idiot. Only time would tell.
Fast forward to December 15, 2013. I’m at the healthcare.gov website, making my third attempt to log in. My first effort in early October, and my second try later that month, never got as far as obtaining a username. The same bizarre error message stopped me in my tracks both times. I had to settle for printing an application and mailing it to a center in Kentucky. Six weeks passed, and I heard nothing.
Now, with the deadline approaching, I was ready to try again. First, I browsed the plans. Only two insurance companies were offering plans on the exchange in this part of Georgia, but there are 18 total plans available. I selected a bronze plan offering coverage across state lines, since I travel so much.
With the plan chosen, I began the process of creating an account at healthcare.gov. As I progressed through the various steps, the system even located my paper application. Along the way, I was required to make several decisions. I was asked how much money I expect to earn in 2014. As an independent consultant, I can only guess. The earnings estimate is used to calculate your subsidy, but you are allowed to decrease the size of the subsidy you accept, in case your earnings turn out higher than expected. In my case, the subsidy was going to pay about two-thirds of my $570 monthly premium. I chose to err on the side of caution, selecting a $200 subsidy for a net cost of $370 per month. Once I made those decisions, I was set. In less than an hour, I had been approved for health insurance.
Okay, that was easier than I expected it to be. The next day brought a new mission. My Congressman, Austin Scott (R-GA08), had scheduled a noontime town hall meeting a few miles from my house. In his newsletters, he boasts about having voted to repeal Obamacare more than 40 times.
I had spoken with him once before, a few months after making that momentous decision to stop paying for overpriced health insurance. At that meeting, I reminded him of one of the GOP’s scary talking points prior to the passage of ACA: a government bureaucrat was going to come between you and your doctor. I said to Rep. Scott:
It wasn’t a government bureaucrat that came between me and my doctor; it was an insurance-company bureaucrat.
This time around, I sat in the front row. There were perhaps 50 citizens in attendance, plus staff and local reporters. Scott gave some prepared remarks, and then took questions. The questions had to be submitted in writing on a very small card. A staffer screened them and called out the questions he felt were appropriate. There was no way I could condense what I had to say onto a card, and I really wanted to talk directly with Rep. Scott anyway. I took my chances on being able to talk with him when the meeting ended.
As I began walking towards Rep. Scott, a reporter stopped me. Would I mind saying a few words into the camera, he asked. I told him that I wanted to talk to the Congressman first. I managed to be second in line to speak. He recognized me from the previous time. I was courteous, and as succinct as I could manage. My message was that the website that he had just maligned in his speech was now functioning. I had obtained health insurance for half of the cost of the plan that I dropped two and a half years ago. Rep. Scott admitted that one of his relatives had recently obtained lower-cost coverage, too. But he still thought that Obamacare is a mess and needs to be replaced with something else; and he referred back to the point he’d made in his speech about the five million people whose plans were cancelled, or had become much more expensive.
I answered him thusly:
Okay, you say that there are 5 million who are hurt in some manner by the ACA. What about the 40 or 50 million uninsured citizens, many of whom live in your district, who stand to benefit from the ACA as it is currently written? I’m one of those 50 million. Let’s make the law better instead of repealing it.
I thanked him, and walked over to the reporter who was still patiently waiting.
How many of you would be willing to stand in front of a TV camera with no prepared remarks, being asked questions by a reporter, and having just one take? I, for one, was not eager to do this. But I’d come here on a mission, and suddenly that mission had expanded. I could reach more people than the citizens who had shown up for the town hall.
The resulting two minute broadcast gave me nearly equal billing with my Congressman! The local station must have been looking for “both sides,” and I was the other side. The two quotes from me that aired:
I was able to get an insurance plan and with the tax credit, it's going to be about half of the price that it was going to be two and a half years ago.
They've definitely got the website up and running now, and so you can get online and see if there is something out there that works for you.
At first I was not going to link to the broadcast, because my real name is used. Here at Daily Kos, I can hide behind the pseudo-anonymous handle of foresterbob. Last night, after having written most of this diary, I came to the conclusion that my once-again-expanded mission calls for me to make the link available for the world to see. So here it is. Perhaps it will inspire you to take action in some small way. Or maybe even in a big way.
Austin Scott town hall
I have no illusions about changing the way Austin Scott votes. But here in deep-red central Georgia, a few television viewers were able to get a positive message about the Affordable Care Act.