Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Obamacare Nightmare!

Like so many other altruistic pursuits, Obamacare had the best of intentions but didn't quite work out as planned.

I am on musical hold with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia.  Estimated wait time:  40 Minutes!

The reason I am calling them is because of the first major fuckup of Obamacare:  The asinine idea that everyone in the United States should sign up for or renew coverage during one month of the year, which incidentally is the busiest month of the year for most people - the Christmas holidays, where in addition to planning for the holidays, you have to close out business for the year, and you have only three weeks do do all that.

I mean, what asshole came up with this brilliant idea?   Let me give you two better ones:
1.  Rolling enrollment based on birth month of primary applicant:   This would spread out enrollment over the year, so call centers are not slammed and the insurance companies don't have to hire temporary help. 
2.  Just let people sign up or change plans any time - this is a little more problematic as it cuts to the chase with the other enormous problem with Obamacare - if it costs too much to afford, just not sign up and then wait until you get sick, and then transition to an Obamacare plan.  Eliminating "pre-existing conditions" sounds like a swell idea, but there is a reason insurance companies had this place.
Of the two, idea #1 is the better.  Not much better, but better.

I am trying to envision the conference room where the boobs who came up with this idea decided it was swell.   One of these policy wonks says, "I know!  We'll have everyone sign up in December!"  and another one says, "That's brilliant!" and a third chimes in, "Yea, you know, we're freaking geniuses!  Thank God we all have cushy government health care plans and don't have to deal with Obamacare!

One of the first tenants of any government-run health care plan is that all government employees - including elected officials - should be forced to use it.   This would clear up a lot of problems right away, if the people administering Obamacare actually had to use it.

So what is the problem with my plan?  Well, the second really bad idea of Obamacare was the Healthcare.gov website.  The third bad idea was having insurance companies run independently of this website, but in conjunction with it.

So in December, I get a number of alarming e-mails, letters, postcards, and whatnot, exhorting me to "sign up" for Obamacare, even though I am already signed up from last year.  Does my plan automatically renew?  One e-mail (and letter) from Blue Cross tells me I have to "pick a plan" before December 15th or Barack Obama will personally come to my house and cut my nuts off with a rusty hacksaw.   The Healthcare.gov people send similarly threatening e-mails.

What's not to love?  Deadlines and threats.  The carrot and stick of Obamacare seems to be mostly stick.

So I go to the Blue Cross website and log in.  It says I need to "choose a plan" and I go and choose one. My existing plan is nowhere to be seen.   There is no information as to whether, if I do not choose a plan, I will be renewed in my existing plan.  So I call the 1-855 number.  40 minutes on hold and the person answering the phone cannot tell me anything that I can't find out on the website - my balance, my plan terms, etc.   In other words, when you call the 1-855 number, they just read you the website!

So I follow the instructions on the website and I select a plan.  It takes me to the Healthcare.gov website and asks me how much I make.  It says I can get a subsidy for almost the entire cost of the plan.   This is the fourth problem with Obamacare- they are giving away the store.   Yes, I appreciate a $14,000 tax credit, thank you very much.   But who is paying for this?   And is it right that a millionaire gets free health care from the government?    I really don't think so.   But that's just me.

Anyway, I get back to the BCBS site and it says I am signed up.  Instead of a POS plan (apt initials!) I have a HMO plan which apparently has dental and vision (I think).  Not that I wanted it - it was the "most popular" plan and the one the site recommended.  Since the subsidy is so high, you might as well go with a Cadillac plan, right?

I was still not sure my old plan wasn't going to auto-renew.  If it did, I would have two policies and I would get a tax credit for only one.  I called again and was on hold for 40 minutes.   Again the person answering the phone has no idea whether I am signed up twice - they just read the website to me word-for-word (this is great for the visually impaired, but not very useful even for them!).

So I figure I will wait.   Today, I get a bill from Blue Cross Blue Shield for $1,391.30 for my old POS plan - which they cheerfully inform me will be "charged to my credit card" on January 1st.   So far, the charge has not shown up.  I log into the Blue Cross website and it says my balance is ZERO as they ran a $13.95 payment for my new plan (with subsidy) and that my plan is an HMO plan, not a POS plan.

I also get new plan cards in the mail - for my old POS plan.   This is very confusing.  Apparently, I have two health insurance plans, but I can only access one of them on the BCBS website!

It is sad how poorly this was done - and I am only glad I am in good health and don't have to file a claim under this plan - I am scared to see how little it would actually cover and how much hassle I would have to go through to make it work.  If just signing up is this hard, how well does the rest of it work?

The fifth problem with Obamacare is that it was implemented too late in his Presidency.  I have only been on the plan a year, as we were "grandfathered" in with our old plan.  So Obamacare has not really been institutionalized like Social Security or Medicare are.   As a result, it is still possible to unwind this whole mess in a real hurry, leading to the sixth problem with Obamacare - what the hell do we all do once it is repealed?

Having just figured out how to sign up for this nonsense and get on board with it, we likely will be tossed off it and forced to find new health insurance, which will likely be staggeringly expensive, given the losses the insurance companies have had over the last few years.

Of course, the majority of Americans are not on Obamacare.  And finding statistics on this - reliable ones and not from the Bureau of Specious Statistics is difficultThe White House says 24 million "more" people are now insured as a result of Obamacare, but it doesn't say how many are covered overall.   Other sites chirp about how many sign up in a given year or how many are now covered under their parent's plan or are on Medicaid - but few sites, if any, give the total number of people on Obamacare.

A lot of people are covered under their employer's plan, and they don't have to do anything to sign up or change coverage or whatever, other than to stop by the HR office on the day they are hired.  Government employees - including the elected officials who created the plan - are not on Obamacare.   Members of the Military are not on the plan.   Thus, just self-employed people, early retirees, and part-time workers are on the plan - maybe 10% of the 330 million people in the USA are on Obamacare.  Some sources put this number even far lower - at 11 million or so.  We are a distinct minority and Congress can shit all over us if they want to, and still not worry about losing an election.

This is the problem.  Obamacare applies to a small number of people - some indigent, some  poor, some merely self-employed.   As I noted in an earlier posting, if you are self-employed and make $130,000 a year and have two kids, you might be looking at $30,000 a year for health insurance - and no subsidy from Uncle Sugar!  And this is likely three times what you were paying before Obamacare was implemented.

So for a very few people - self-employed upper-middle-class people - Obamacare has been a total screw-job.   For folks working part-time at Wal-Mart, it means you have free health insurance for the first time in your life.   For someone living below the poverty line, though, it means you are still stuck on Medicaid - if you can even get that.  Yet one additional problem with Obamacare was that it left Medicaid expansion to the States, and some States declined to get involved.  So if you are really poor, you still have no health insurance.

Since we are a minority and an odd one that that, we have no real voice in the process.  I've heard from retirees on Medicare, while they bloviate how Obamacare is spending "their tax dollars" on health care, (at a time in their lives when they are paying little, if any taxes, and tax rates have not gone up at all in their bracket).   They have an opinion about something they know nothing about.   And sadly, people not on Obamacare are in the majority, and thus we, the folks forced to be on it are whipsawed back and forth while various political factions "make their points".

Like I said, I'm glad I'm not sick.   The problem is, I don't have a choice in this matter.  I can't go back to my old "legacy" plan - that I stayed on for two years after Obamacare started - as it is now illegal for them to offer it, and moreover, even if I could get such a plan, I would have to pay a tax fine for not getting Obamacare.

The other choice would be to go back to work full-time at a "regular" job somewhere.  The problem with this is that getting a job is not something you have a choice in.   Sure, I might be able to find a job if I was willing to sell my house and move to another city.   But it seems like a strange thing to do, just to get health care coverage.

This was not a well-thought-out plan.  Whoever came up with this patchwork approach to health insurance should be hauled to the woodshed and given a good whupping.

Oh, wait, the music on hold has ended!  They are transferring me to an operator!   40 minutes and I am at the head of the queue!   Ring, Ring. Ring.  Click.  Fast-busy-signal.


I call back and they basically say they are no longer taking calls, even for the queue.

I guess at this point my only choice is to dispute the charge on my credit card and then cancel the credit card to keep them from making more charges to it.

But for some reason, the system is not letting me print out new insurance cards for the HMO plan, so I still have no idea which plan I am signed up for - if not both - and what is going on.

OBAMACARE SUCKS!!!  Well, not really - just the interface between the government site and privatge insurance companies.

UPDATE:  The Blue Cross site - which has been running at a snail's pace all day - finally decided I am allowed to print out health insurance temporary cards (I also requested physical ones).  They show me having an HMO plan, while the POS plan cards are on my desk.   I don't know what to make of this.

UPDATE:  One reason I started this blog is that it allows me to vent.   This situation is very stressful, but writing about it, I find, gives me closure and calms me down.   At least I have insurance, apparently.  Perhaps two policies.  I am sure one can be cancelled, eventually, and hopefully a refund given.

UPDATE 2020:  Blue Cross left Georgia with its tail between its legs - good riddance!  Ambetter Peachtree seems to have their shit together.   Moreover, they seem to cover more than Blue Cross did, and not force us to go to obscure places for blood tests and the like.

By the way, when did blood tests become a "thing" for your annual checkup?  Time was, a blood test was only done when you were sick or something.  Times have changed!