Obamacare Success Story: Man With HIV Thought He'd Be 'Dead Within 6 Months,' Now Has Awesome, Cheaper Insurance
Dan is a gay man from Michigan who called my radio program on SiriusXM Progress on Oct. 23. He sounded frantic. He'd received one of the infamous cancellation letters from his insurance company, he said.
"I am a person who has Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan," he explained. "I have a $1,000 deductible, and I get $4,000 worth of AIDS medication every month for $40. I got the cancellation notice and have looked since 3 a.m. on Oct. 1 for a comparable policy, and it's not out there for prescription coverage. I am going to be one of the people who are going to be screwed by Obamacare. And I really support the president. I'm glad that people who are uninsured can get insurance. But my real-life story is: I'm going to be screwed."
Dan said that he'd gone to the federal exchange at Healthcare.gov, and also to an online broker. He said he couldn't find any insurance that wasn't twice the cost of what he was paying (and covered his drugs), including from his current provider.
"It now looks like I'm going to lose my medication and will probably be dead within six months," he proclaimed.
At first I thought Dan might be a faker. That week we'd been bombarded with callers who appeared as if they might be part of an orchestrated right-wing campaign of disinformation to create fear around Obamacare and exploit the problems with the website. The calls were uncanny, with what seemed to be identical scripts. The callers would start out by saying they were Obama supporters or Democrats, and then they'd go off into the same exact details about their policies and their inability to get coverage.
The HIV angle made Dan's call different, as we'd not heard that one before. But other callers, progressives and supporters of Obamacare, pointed out that the government's long-established AIDS Drug Assistance Program made it unlikely that someone who truly couldn't afford the HIV meds would go without them. It also seemed highly improbable that a person in good health who goes off HIV meds would be dead in six months. On Twitter listeners said they were suspicious of the call.
But while he was overly dramatic, there was something genuine about Dan's call. This was simply panic, I deduced. Dan was for real, but he was caught up in hysteria induced by right-wing spin and smears, like so many others. I told him he needed to call the 800 number at Healthcare.gov and speak to an actual person -- which he'd not yet done -- or get on the Michigan exchange, which he hadn't done, or find a private local broker.
"I'm going to lose it by Jan. 1," he insisted. "I figure it will take six months for my disease to kick in."
Two weeks later Dan called back.
"I've done everything you've said," he told me, sounding more frantic and also explaining that he didn't qualify for a government subsidy for insurance. "I called people in person. I've gone back online. I've talked to Blue Cross/Blue Shield. To continually tell people there's something better out there is false!"
I immediately messaged Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress, who comes on the show often to discuss the Affordable Care Act. He confirmed Dan's frustrations but said Dan could find good coverage if he looked hard. I again told Dan that he needed to keep trying, and that he needed to speak to someone in person.
Last week Dan called back again.
"I'm the AIDS patient in Michigan who lost his insurance," he reminded me. "I was panicked I was going to lose all my meds. I take back every word I threw at you. I found insurance. It's better. It's cheap. And I'm keeping my doctor and my plan. I can't believe it."
Dan said he just kept looking until he found his perfect policy on the Michigan exchange.
"The problem is that there's so many policies to go through and compare that it takes you a while to find the one that suits your personal situation," he explained. "But I did find it. It is there. And what the right wing is saying, about, 'You lose your doctor, it's more expensive, you're being canceled,' I have to take it all back. If you get the help, and you talk to people -- because then I called live, a live person to confirm it -- and it is out there."
Dan was paying $1,485 per month for his old plan with the $1,000 deductible. His new plan under Obamacare, which includes coverage not only for all his prescriptions but for dental and vision -- which his old plan did not -- is costing him over $500 less per month, at a total cost of $914, with the same deductible. That's not to mention that he got it with the pre-existing condition of HIV. I don't want to downplay or obscure what are some real problems that some people with HIV are reporting regarding getting drugs fully covered under Obamacare, or what other people are reporting about higher deductibles in the new plans. But Dan's story obviously shows that a lot of people have been swept up in the hysteria when there is indeed great health insurance out there for them.
"Dental and vision!" Dan exclaimed. "Yes, the deductible is all tax-exempt. It's a health-savings plan. So it's all tax-exempt. It's a wonderful plan."
Dan apologized and said he wanted to "rectify the damage" he'd done by calling the show and "scaring people away" from Obamacare.
"I want to say to all your listeners: I was terribly wrong," he said. "Now I'm going to push myself as a huge Obamacare success story. I'm bragging it to everyone."