At a little before 9:20 a.m. I started, for the third time, to create an account on the government’s national Affordable Health Care insurance website, The Marketplace.
The first two times late last year I got stuck in an ether “waiting room” like tens of thousands of other Americans confused by the threats of penalties and early registration deadlines. Like others, I too got an email saying the government would be “right back” with me.
I never heard back, but after speaking to other likewise artistic, freelance and self-employed friends, I had clarity and understood the deadline had been pushed back to March 31 because of major system snafus, presidential apologies and more kinks than a black beauty salon.
Dani, a writer friend in Oakland, Calif., said around Christmas time that she had gotten through and was waiting to hear from the state if she was eligible for health coverage assistance. Terence, an artist friend here in the city, said he’d gotten through and that I should be prepared to have tax information handy because the online application asks for employers’ identification numbers. Strangely, I live with tax forms, check stubs and receipts all about my writing table, so I had that on lock.
After a quick profile creation page I was sent three emails.
Rushing as I always am, I ignored the first two and went immediately to the third email and clicked a link that sent me to a login page.
The account was “locked or disabled.”
Three more tries with the username and absurd password I’d created.
By 9:23 a.m. I was madly pressing buttons on my cell phone, navigating the government’s automated prompts, finally settling on “O” for operator after the automated system kept mistaking my pronunciations of “Ohio” for “Iowa.”
At exactly 9:26 I was on the line with a live person, a woman with a kindly and deeply thick Southern accent who repeatedly called me by my first name.
“I just created an account online to try to register for health insurance and I’m locked out,” I said. “It won’t let me log in.”
“Let me see if I kin help ye,” she said calmly. She asked for my name again, phone number, address, and when I got to Cincinnati, she needed spelling help.
“I roughed up that middle c,” she said.
“Most people do,” I said.
“Are ye trying to fill you an application out?” she asked.
“I am,” I said.
“Well, it’s bein’ stubborn.”
I could hear keys tapping in the background and heavy breathing.
Frustrated, she asked for my username, a long and obnoxious tag which includes part of the dead rapper Biggie Smalls’ moniker.
I hear slow tapping.
Then my Social Security number.
“Lets see if it’ll link it first,” she said. “Unlocking your account,” she pauses, “It says user account invalid.”
“Hmmm.” I feign concern. I am really thinking, fatally, that I will never again be insured and will forever be relegated to the mercy and kindness of doctors who will treat me despite my inability to pay in a timely manner. This, I think, will be my life until I die uninsured.
At 9:30, though, something strikes me and I return, with the customer service lady on speaker, to my email where I realize that among the three Marketplace emails I’d gotten I’d skipped the one I was supposed to open to verify my email address and re-enter the Marketplace to begin the application.
When I do this I get the message “Success! Your account has been created!”
I apologize to my Southern helper and we hang up the phone so I can get started in what I assume will be an hours-long, neck- stiffening process.
However, by 9:51 a.m. I have whizzed through the application screens, answering questions about my household, race, self-employment and verifiable income — which is embarrassingly low.
The system calculates that, according to monthly amounts I have provided, I earn $12,360 annually but I get a chance to edit that to $10,240, subtracting spring and early summer months when my income is the shakiest and most uncertain.
I immediately receive Eligibility Results in the form of a 13-page PDF telling me I “may be eligible for Ohio Medicaid” and that my work, for now, is done and all that is left for me to do is to wait for the state to contact me to tell me if I will be on state Medicaid rolls henceforth.
I know from memory that the team of doctors I have used since my heyday of gainful employment and fat cat, full-coverage health insurance all take Medicaid and my mind starts to reel.
I start thinking about how often I will go to the doctor, what I will have “fixed,” looked at, tended to and repaired and, suddenly, Medicaid starts to feel like a big check I know is coming in the mail, and like the poor who get monthly government assistance I begin “spending” my Medicaid before I am certain if I am even really going to receive it.
Getting Medicaid is suddenly like going to the mall and poppin’ tags.
It’s because I am among the nation’s working poor and insurance starved; I am among the self-healers and the self-medicated; the poor who depend on doctors to fulfill their Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm” and to not turn us away.
Since usurping my COBRA so many years ago I can’t even recall how long ago it was, I have been blessed to be treated by an internist who routinely waived her office fee, prescribed generic, $1 or no-cost prescription pills and who continued to see me as I misbehaved by waiting far too long to get to the doctor.
Oh, sweet Medicaid!
Those days are over.
National Health Care, Affordable Health Care Act, even the intended slur of Obamacare — call it what you like.
I call it easy and about time.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: firstname.lastname@example.org