Brave New World…of Obamacare

Having been under the U.K.’s National Health Service program for four years, I am more than a little rusty at health insurance shopping. Honestly, I’ve never been good at this. HMOs, PPOs, wtf. I have no idea what I’m doing. The word “deductible” is enough to send me into a blind panic. In the days of yore before health care reform, this is how I shopped for insurance:

Step 1: Call three health insurance companies that have names I recognize. Three is a nice number, don’t you think?

Step 2: Ask some questions that make me look smart, like, “What is the deductible?” Write down the answers.

Step 3: Stare at the answers.

Step 4: Go with the company I had last time, choosing the cheapest option I could get away with.

I’ve heard a lot about the roll-out of “Obamacare” (which is a lot more fun to say than “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)“). About 99% of it has been negative, apologetic, or defensive, depending on the pundit’s political flavor. Now it’s my turn to sign up for health insurance, and I’m skeptical at best, full of dread at worst.

I type in “Obamacare” and go with the .gov site. It directs me to the site for my state of residence, which is Covered California. The cover page is bubbly and fun, with friendly buttons that invite me to “Apply Now!”

Hey, this isn’t so bad. My dread lessens ever so slightly. I fill in the income information, family size, yadda yadda yadda. The application form takes about an hour. I upload pdf files of our payslips and proof of residency. After submitting everything, it takes a few days for the Obamacare gnomes to digitally approve my documents.

There’s a glitch on the site – although I qualify for a reduction in the monthly payments, the reduction is not showing up. I’m obliged to call the Covered California helpline. I’m on hold for a million years, but whatever, the media’s prepared me for this. I wander around Facebook while I wait.

“Thank you for calling Covered California,” a tired female voice cuts into the terrible hold music.

I glance at the clock – it’s after 6pm. “Sounds like you’ve had a long day.”

“Yeah, it’s been a long week,” she chuckles.

I explain the technical issue and she puts me on hold to speak to a manager.

“I’m afraid we can’t get it worked out here,” she says after a few minutes. “Give the IT people a few days and they will call or email you when they’ve worked out the bug. And don’t worry – I’m making a note that this is an issue on our end and you won’t be penalized for signing up late.”

She gives me an “incident number” and advises me to call if I don’t hear back in a week from IT.

“It’s a good thing you called,” she said. “If you had signed up without the assistance, it would have been a lot harder to apply it after the fact.”

I wait a week, and having not heard back from IT, I decide to give it another go. When I log into the site again, a friendly yellow button tells me I can enroll into a health plan. First, the site will ask about my health care needs.

Here it comes, I think. Time for the fifth degree. I reach for my health care records. The dread returns.

But the questions are all general – how many doctor visits in a year do I think we’ll have, how many medications, etc. This generates a new screen where the health insurance companies are lined up, side by side, with estimates of how much I will pay for my health care this year.

Hovering the arrow over the dreaded word “deductible” pops up a definition of what it is. In fact, every mysterious bit of the comparison table has an explanation. It takes me a few times and some googling to get it, but it starts to sink in.

Hey! This is fun! 

Ok, no it’s not. But it’s a heck of a lot easier to compare companies when all the important bits are lined up side by side and you can see what you’re getting into. Even better, there’s (pretty generous) financial assistance applied to the premiums, since we are currently underemployed.

I select an option, and it’s with the same company I’ve always used. But this time, I feel like I actually chose them, you know, rationally.

I click the “checkout” cart. Ok, here it comes…I reach for the medical records again.

But it’s just an e-signature page, then a notice that my new health insurance company will bill me in a few days.

I stare at the screen in disbelief. What, no questions about my family history of heart issues? No cataloging every sinus infection and hospital visit? 

No personal health questions at all.

It hits me – Obamacare is a crossroads. Things are not as they once were. In a generation, we won’t even know what a “pre-existing condition” means. O brave new world!

I’m all fired up with empowerment. I’ve conquered Obamacare! I’m ready for anything.

Next quest – an affordable apartment in Silicon Valley. Bring it on!!