Health insurance: Why is this so damn hard?

Don’t answer that. I already know why it’s hard. In a word: Bureaucracy. Mindless, wasteful bureaucracy.

See the insurance card below? It’s the third one the government-mandated insurance provider has sent me in the forty days since I signed up for Obamacare. All together, I’ve received half a dozen mailings from various organizations connected with my new health insurance, each one chock-full of small-print gobbledygook that looks like it was farted out of some robo-lawyer’s ass. And in all that time I haven’t even been in to see a doctor. Or a nurse. Not even a fuckin’ receptionist!

But actually, I couldn’t care less about that. Let me tell you what else I got in the mail though, just last Friday.

Ah . . . nope. I think I better back up a little first. Give you some history.

Obamacare: Tuning In and Turning On

I won’t go into my experience with Washington’s Obamacare sign-up page except to say that it was a somewhat less awful version of the federal site, aka Healthcare.gov. I had to log-on several times, submit to a financial “cavity search,” and dig up my wife’s 20-year-old naturalization certificate to prove she was a citizen, but other than that it wasn’t too painful. At the end of the sign-up process, the Web site offered some additional help that I hadn’t asked for and didn’t want. “Congratulations!” a message on the screen  said, “You not only qualify for free health care, but for some other benefits as well. Would you like to go ahead and apply for food stamps now?”

“No thanks,” I said. [Click]

“Great,” said the computer. “You’ll be hearing from us. Goodbye.”


They weren’t lying about that. Within a few days a membership card like the one above showed up in the mailbox. Then a week later, another one showed up. And the week after that, still another.

Dropping Out . . .

Like I said, I have no beef about the duplicate insurance cards thing. That’s a minor annoyance. But then, last Friday, something of a very different nature came in the mailbox: a nasty-gram from the Washington State Department of Socialism, telling me that I wasn’t covered after all, and that in fact, I could be in trouble. According to their records, I had gotten drunk or something and didn’t show up for my “appointment” – an appointment they hadn’t even told me about.

 

Read the complete nasty-gram here 
(And fifty bucks goes to the first lawyer who can explain what it means.)

The good news was that I’d been assigned a social worker and a case manager, and if I committed to turning my life around I could appeal the decision and they might give me another chance:


The bad news was that, in the meantime, I was fucked. No health care coverage. Or at least, that’s what the letter said.

At first I was really peeved. After all that rigmarole on the Web site . . . and then they just end up cancelling me anyway? And for what? For missing some bullshit appointment I didn’t know about? And what’s this about “WorkFirst.” Are they gonna make me do some bullshit job search thing? I thought that was for people who were claiming some kind of additional “benefit” like unemployment insurance or food stamps. But I hadn’t applied for either one of those. All I’d applied for was Obamacare, which I was required to do by law.

After biting my nails for a few minutes, I realized that the letter had to be some kind of mistake and that DSHS had gotten their wires crossed somehow. But I knew I’d have to waste my time calling them anyway, just to make sure it was their screw-up. Otherwise, the next thing I knew, they’d be asking me to pay them back or something.

Fu-uh-uh-uh-uh-uhk!

I called the first number on letter (716-2300) hoping to talk to “my social worker,” but that didn’t pan out, because the only way you can get through on that line is if you already know your social worker’s name, which I didn’t. So  I called the second number on the paper (the 877 number) where I was immediately dumped into the hold queue. After about 10 minutes, a Jessica B. picked up the phone and confirmed my suspicions.

“A lot of people have been calling us about this letter,” she told me. “And they’re really upset. It’s just a glitch that related to the fact that we used to handle all the Medicaid from here at DSHS. But with Obamacare, Medicaid is now handled separately, so that letter doesn’t apply to you.”

“Yeah, great,” I said. “Thanks for that . . . Is this ever gonna happen again?”

“No,” she said, decisively.

“How do you know that?”

“Trust me. It won’t happen again.”

“Well, it shouldn’t have happened the first time, actually, so I’d just like to hear it from someone in authority there that they’ve got this thing handled, that they’ve fixed the computer bug.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, sir,” Jessica replied. “You can call back and ask to talk to a supervisor, I guess.”

“Well . . . why can’t I talk to one now?”

“Because there’s no supervisor here now.”

–Hm . . . No one in charge at the DSHS office in the thick of the crisis, eh? Why does that not surprise me?

Seeing that it was useless to resist any further, I gave up on the supervisor thing and decided to blog it about instead. I think that’s probably the best way to get to the bottom of this SNAFU. Don’t you? 😉


I wonder how many of those bogus “benefits denied” letters went out anyhow. How much postage is that down the drain? And how many hundreds (thousands?) of hours will DSHS employees ultimately spend explaining this screw-up to irate callers?

Will anyone’s head roll over this, I wonder. Will anyone even miss an automatic pay raise? –I doubt it.

But honestly, how hard can it be? How hard can it really be? There must be dozens of people in the IT section at DSHS, and presumably all those folks have some kind of college degree. Are you telling me that in that whole crowd of nerds there wasn’t one person who had the mental horsepower to realize that when the switch over to Obamacare was final, they would need to modify their form letter process?

And what about the managers? Are they so out of touch that they don’t even know what kind of form letters their agency is sending out?

This is not just a government problem. (After all, the duplicate insurance cards were sent to me not by DSHS but by a private insurance company (Amerigroup)). So no, this isn’t just a government thing; it’s an institutional thing. There must be something about working in big organizations that deprives people of their native intelligence. Or turns them into cowards.

On the other hand, I know how easy it is to be a coward, and how hard it can be to do the right thing under pressure. And this ties in with my theme, strangely enough, because do you know how I came to be applying for Obamacare in the first place? It’s kind of a funny story, actually. An ironic one. You see, eight years ago, I was a bureaucrat myself, working for the Washington State Department of Health. And while I was at DOH, it happened that I was assigned to work on a software program not unlike the one DSHS is using right now. You know, the program that sent me the automatic nasty-gram.

DOH had paid a private software company $6 million to create this program, but after the $6 million was spent the program still wasn’t ready; it wasn’t generating “violation notices” correctly. The boss wanted me to sign off on the deal anyway, so he could call it good and get a gold star. But I refused, and when he called me out in front of some mucky-mucks, I laid it straight on the line. I said: Dude! If the program isn’t ready, it isn’t ready. And I’m not gonna lie and say it is ready so you can meet some deadline. You’ll either have to spend more money to get it right or you’ll have to do some other workaround.

Well, boss-man really did not want to be told that in front of everyone, so guess what he did? He laid me off, and said my job wasn’t needed any more! Yup. And then he went ahead with the fucked-up computer program, which is still fucked-up to this day, I’m told.* And I don’t know who he talked to after that, exactly, but suddenly no one in government wanted to hire me. So that’s the thanks this little bureaucrat got for standing up and doing the right thing.

Bye-bye cushy government job . . .

Bye-bye health insurance . . .

 Hello, Blog Quixotic!









*Meanwhile, boss-man was promoted right out of that office.

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4 Responses to Health insurance: Why is this so damn hard?

  1. DBP says:

    Don’t misundertake me, Jiggs. I’m still glad there’s Obamacare. Maybe it does make some people slack off, knowing that they don’t need to worry about paying for health insurance. But who cares? I think it’s a basic right for everyone to have decent health care. Everyone’s entitled to no frills checkups and catastrophic health care. If someone wants to work their ass off and pay a premium for “deluxe” care, they can still do that.

    Are there problems with Obamacare? You betcha. Some people got fucked over by losing their doctors or their existing plans, and that was wrong. Obama should take responsibility for that, apologize, and learn from his mistakes. But the failures of the policy don’t outweigh the successes. As of now, a lot of Americans have insurance who didn’t have it before. And that includes a lot of hard working people like me.

    My biggest problem with Obamacare is the same problem I have with private insurance: the waste. A single-payer system like they have in Great Britain and Canada would have been vastly superior to this, because it would have cut out the wasteful paperwork and bureaucracy that drags our system down. But Obama made the mistake – the huge mistake – of leaving the existing private insurance-based system in place and just tweaking it to make it cover more people. So whereas before, we had wasteful system that covered maybe 60% of Americans, we now have a wasteful system that covers 90% of Americans. Since the coverage is bigger, the waste is correspondingly bigger as well.

    Until I confirmed that the cancellation letter I got from DSHS was bogus, I was sweating it. I thought: What the fuck! This is worse than when I had no coverage. At least then I didn’t have to put up with these bullshit letters.

    For a minute there, Obamacare was looking like a net loss.

  2. Rats In A Cage says:

    Sorry to hear you got the shaft DBP. I know how it feels. The fact that he got promoted is par for the course/icing on the cake. I really hate fuckers like that.

    It is amazing what happened to you and others who applied for insurance. Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. Hmm.... says:

    A bit of good advice straight from DSHS ….
    If you DO have to visit a DSHS office avoid coming at the end of the month or the beginning of the month as DSHS says these are their busiest days. To process fastest queue up about ten minutes before 8 am. DSHS terminals and desk help are pretty efficient, considering. If you have to talk with DSHS call precisely at 8am (and keep hitting redial). These worked well for me.

  4. Rats In A Cage says:

    I like this line: “Fu-uh-uh-uh-uh-uhk!”

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