My son had no health insurance coverage from the time he was born until he was 6 months old. His lack of coverage wasn't due to my lack of trying to attain it, believe me.
As a first-time new mother, sleep deprived and flooded with hormones that caused me to be maniacally happy and hysterically sad, often simultaneously, I'd spend sometimes as much as three hours a day on the phone (or more accurately, on hold or being transferred) with the health insurance company we could afford for him.
Many times, phone conversations would reveal that mysterious documents needed to be produced for our successful application, either by the following day or on that same day by 5pm. I'd find myself furiously faxing things or limping down to the company's office with bundles of what amounted to evidence that my son deserved to have his health cared for.
We brought every representative from the company everything they requested and more. Still, each month we'd receive a letter that we'd open with the breathless anticipation one might reserve for opening an envelope revealing the Oscar winner's name. And each month we'd read, "Child's coverage denied because of..." There was always a different reason given. Once we had neglected to initial a single line on one page in a 10-page form. Many months, the denial was an enigma even to the poor schmuck unfortunate enough to answer the phone when I'd call the company to complain.
"So what you're telling me, " I'd say, attempting to contain my rage, "is that my NEWBORN has no health insurance! AND YOU THINK THAT THAT'S OK????!!!"
"I'm sorry m'am," the hapless agent would say, unsuccessfully trying to assume a posture of genuine remorse, "but you should DEFINITELY apply again next month!"
"OK!" I'd end up screaming. "I GUESS I JUST WON'T LEAVE THE HOUSE WITH HIM UNTIL THEN! JUST TO BE SAFE!" And sometimes I'd add "A**HOLE!" just to feel mildly empowered.
Every month we were declined, and with each denial, my fear, anger and insanity intensified, as did the physical manifestations of those things in my body: stomachaches, headaches, backaches, fits of rage and crying jags.
We were eventually granted the privilege of paying $259/month for a service we, thank goodness, have rarely had to use.
Cut to January this year.
Since the Affordable Care Act has gone into effect, it seems as though insurance companies, perhaps threatened by the idea that health care may someday no longer be considered a luxury item for Americans but a right, seem to be completely discombobulated -- in a state of total disrepair. Applications are mind-numbingly dense, questions seem unanswerable by all company representatives and the billing problems are unfathomable.
Two days ago, I received the following three letters about my son's insurance coverage all in one batch of mail: a letter welcoming my son to the company, accompanied by his insurance card (which we already had); a "FINAL NOTICE" bill for that same account threatening to cancel it; and a notice that his account had already been cancelled for "FAIL TO PAY" (If you're going to threaten me, at least get the grammar right!). So his coverage was confirmed, threatened and cancelled all on the same day.
Now I again have headaches, stomachaches and general anxiety wondering whether or not my son's coverage is in place.
The Affordable Care Act has taken us one essential, albeit clumsy and highly flawed, step in the right direction. But the mentality behind the health care system has not yet changed enough to immunize us from its disease.
I don't blame the intent of the creators of what has been coined, both optimistically and derisively, "Obamacare." Our broken system should not have continued as it was. I do blame the bickering and the partisan politics that tore the policy to shreds and diminished it beyond all recognition before we ever got a chance to benefit from it. I do blame the conservative hackers who sabotaged the application process, sure that taxing people's energy and time in this way to prove the act was doomed to fail was justifiable. And I blame those who have campaigned tirelessly against it, not because they understand it and don't like what they see, but because they don't like the kind of people who support it.
The health care system in America is hurting us all, including our children, because it's not founded on the principle that it should be helping us all. And because, by its very nature -- complicated applications, heartless denials, uninformed employees -- it makes us all much less healthy due to stress and anxiety.
I know I'm not the first person to comment on this. But now that I'm a mother with a child for whom coverage was hard to get and equally difficult to remain assured of, the system, and its architects and participants, feels simply and unforgivably immoral.
Photo ©Ali Smith from the book Momma Love
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