So, it's 3 January and I don't have any health insurance.
I watched everyone on Twitter going gaga on the first about how "Now everyone has health care, hooray!" and I had to contain myself from setting the entire Internet on fire and then lighting a cigar from the ashes and blowing smoke rings while wearing a monocle and top hat. And twirling my mustache.
Here's the deal. I was skeptical about the Affordable Care Act from the beginning, and here, in a nutshell version, is why: I don't believe that health insurance is health care. I see forcing people to buy insurance as nothing more than a giant stimulus check for insurance companies, and it makes me very uncomfortable that people should be compelled to buy insurance because they're, uh, alive. I see the ACA as a fundamental weakening of what was promised in terms of health care reform.
I also don't believe that ACA is the most economically logical solution to the tremendous health care problems in the United States. It's more economically efficient to transition the entire country to national single-payer than it is to maintain the current hodge-podge system. I'm a utilitarian. I like it when basic economics add up to doing the right thing, and I'm pissed that we didn't do the right thing.
I also recognize, however, that ACA changes some things for some people, and that increasing access to some health care is better than keeping things as they are. Maybe. Because if ACA fails (and I think it might), reform will stall out, and this is what we'll be stuck with, instead of a functional, cost-effective, and humane national health system.
I sat down and crunched the ACA numbers a while back and determined that it would actually be more cost effective for me to remain uninsured and continue paying cash for my (considerable) medical expenses than to buy a policy and pay for everything the policy didn't cover. But then some Issues came up, and thus, my battles with Covered California began.
Those of you who have been following me on Twitter are probably already familiar with my battles with Covered California, because they have been pretty epic. You know how Healthcare.gov was completely messed up, and Covered California was supposed to be better? Well, that depends on which factor of "better" you're using, because I tried accessing it starting in October, and it took until late November for me to actually be able to buy a policy.
What happened? Well, first I couldn't access it at all. Then, the site hung up and crashed so many times that I couldn't complete the relatively simple application. Then, it was so badly coded that I constantly had to refresh random pages and find backdoor methods of accessing links, because it was totally innavigable and confusing. Then, I finally got to the stage where I was offered a selection of health plans, and when I clicked on the plan I wanted (Platinum, baby), Covered California refused to provide me with the actual insurance contract.
I'm sorry, but I am not going to buy something until I have read the contract. Especially something that I am paying nearly $500/month for. I'm just not. I don't care that there are minimum standards set by Obamacare for each level. I need to know what is actually covered, and whether a policy will meet my needs as an individual insured person, because I have some pretty specific needs.
At first there wasn't even an attempt to provide links to basic summaries of coverage. Then Covered California deigned to put them up, but the links led to some sort of weird backend system clearly designed for insurance agents, not individuals, and none of the links within that system actually worked for me because I was supposed to, you know, log in with an agent ID. Which I don't have. Not being an insurance agent, and all.
FINALLY, Covered California wised up to the fact that maybe people don't want to commit to a major purchase without knowing a little more about it first, and I was able to read the summary of coverage, and I signed up. I was assured that I'd be sent a bill to get things going.
A week went by. I assumed the holidays had messed things up.
No enrollment paperwork, and Covered California reminded me that I needed to pay my premium in time to get my insurance active by 1 January.
I called Covered California to find out what was going on and got a recorded message which hung up on me. I tried calling repeatedly and never got through -- a friend later reported that she spent three hours autodialing to get through to a person.
After four weeks, I finally called the insurance company, with a growing sense of unease. Only about a week remained of the year, and I'd be breaking the law if I didn't get my premium paid and my insurance all set by the first. I got through fairly quickly to a very lovely lady. After 20 minutes of escalating panic and confusion on both our parts, we determined that I was not, in fact, enrolled with [Insurer].
"When did you sign up?" she asked, finally, after checking one last time to see if I'd ended up in the system in a weird way.
"Er...November 26th, I think?" I said.
"Oh," she said.
There was a pause.
"Why?" I asked.
"We're only through October 15th in application processing from Covered California," she said. "They are sending them over late and their system doesn't work with ours."
"So...I'm supposed to pay my premium by the sixth to avoid penalties. How can I do that if you haven't sent me a bill, or even enrolled me in your system?"
"I...don't know," she said.
I could hear the keyboard clicking in the background.
"This seems like it's going to be a problem," I said, keeping my voice as mild as possible, given the circumstances.
"This is," she confessed, "a little bit of a complete mess."
We both paused to consider the truth of her statement.
"They'll extend it," she said. "They have to extend it."
Here's hoping so, because it's January, I don't have insurance, and I'm apparently breaking the law -- even though I've done my best to comply with it.