Wednesday, June 18, 2014


(*With all due respect to my good friend @JayMcInerney)

You are not the kind of guy who would be in a place like this at this stage of Obamacare.  With your biography, you could've been its poster child, but now you're in danger of becoming one for the opposition.

By now, everyone has an Obamacare story to tell.  While the Administration touts the 8 million Americans who signed up, many for the first time, others grumble about bureaucratic nightmares, abrupt cancellations, or online-exchange glitches. You've suspected the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but now you feel you've been had. You—an informed consumer who advocated for such reforms for years.

You hate yourself for writing this, providing fodder for antagonistic Republicans.  It gives you what psychologists call cognitive dissonance.  As a self-employed professional with pre-existing conditions up the wazoo—quite literally, actually—you craved the basic fairness of the Affordable Care Act.  Before it, your only option was an outrageously expensive PPO that paid 70 percent of in-network doctor bills and 50 percent of so-called "customary rates" for out-of-network services.  For this you forked over the princely sum of $10,408.80 a year in premiums. 

But as a "high-risk patient," you were grateful for what you got.  You were born with a neuromuscular weakness called spinal muscular atrophy; you've never walked or stood, and your lungs are so weak that a bad cold could kill you.  People like you can't be too choosy about their health insurance.  Employers rejected you, though you'd graduated from Harvard with honors.  The only work you could secure were freelance magazine assignments.  As an independent contractor, you had to secure your own coverage.  But when you aged out of your parents' policy, in the late-1980s, you couldn't buy health insurance at any price.  So you joined organizations—the National Writers' Union, the Media Alliance, etc.—just to score a group plan that didn't require a medical examination.  Still, carriers kept dropping you.  They called you too expensive.

The Clinton Administration brought passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which enabled you to purchase insurance without any pre-existing-condition exemptions if you had proof of prior coverage.  A terrific help, this is how you ended up with the pricey PPO.  You clung to it for years. 

But last October you received word that it was ending, thanks to the ACA.  No worries.  You would be automatically shunted into a new policy that slashed your premiums in half and cut your co-pays to practically nothing.  Even when the application process faltered, you defended the new order.  Friends and family held you up as an example of its success.

Granted, your gratitude waned when you learned the new, cheaper plan excluded your local hospital and its doctors.  But soon, undeterred, you found a competitive policy and made the switch before the cutoff date.  Progress is always bumpy, you told yourself.

You were so innocent.

The weeks that followed were filled with obtaining authorizations for ongoing prescriptions.  Some had to be transferred to a new mail-order pharmacy.  Small hassles, to be sure, but you believed this was a phase that would pass.  Only when your primary physician suggested you consult a specialist—a cardiologist for a routine scan--did a true sense of panic dawn.   "The doctor won't see patients with any of the new plans," the receptionist politely but bluntly informed you. 

Ditto the second and third cardiologist referrals.  Next, your beloved urologist, whom you found only last year after rejecting several others, said essentially the same thing.  Even your long-time gastroenterologist and colorectal surgeon (six years ago you had a colectomy, hence the wazoo reference) blackballed you.

It seemed impossible.  You had been so careful, so sure.  A physician friend explained that the new plans are simply not paying doctors a fair and adequate rate.  Doctors who accept them are losing money.  This is how insurers are making up for what they've had to give up under Obamacare.  Soon, your friend cautioned gloomily, many doctors could go out of business.  It could become practically impossible to find any doctors willing to practice.

You do not believe it.  Obamacare couldn't be the end of medicine as we've known it.  Yet for now, you have to choose between seeing specialists you don't want or paying full-freight for ones you do.  In which case, why have insurance at all?  Then you remember: you don't have that choice anymore.

You are stuck—stuck with a cheap plan that doesn't serve your needs.  It doesn't matter that you went for the "platinum" option, foregoing tax breaks you might have received from the state-sponsored exchange.  It's still no good.  You even asked your broker if there's any kind of supplemental, stopgap policy you could purchase.  She said no.  You can't change anything until the next open enrollment in mid-November. 

Will there be a better choice then?  You can only hope.

Ben Mattlin
Author of Miracle Boy Grows Up: How the Disability Rights Revolution Saved my Sanity
Los Angeles, CA


  1. Ben!! I am so glad to find someone else who gets it!!

    I have a daughter living with GSD type 1b. She has been going through such hell with ACA...I'll be writing you!

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