Salt in the wound: losing health insurance

Apparently the universe saw my post from yesterday and said “Screw you!  We’ll make sure you’re not ‘bored’!”

Today was bad.

This morning I decided to call HR at my old employer again.  I started calling about a month ago to find out what my health insurance status was now that my long term disability claim has been denied.  The person with all the answers was out of the office indefinitely. The other, let’s call her Joan, wasn’t calling me back.  I figured I should try again today.  I looked at the clock: 8:56am.  Too early.  I read the news.  I read email.  I read random web sites.  I ate breakfast and took my pills.  I did more reading.  Nice morning, right?  As I was about to start my physical therapy, I realized I could finally call HR.  I couldn’t get Joan on the phone but I got someone else, let’s call her Ruth.  Ruth checked with Joan and came back to the phone, asking me, “Have you received a COBRA packet in the mail?”  And from there my day went to shit.

For those not from the U.S., let me explain.  While every other industrialized country provides universal health insurance to their citizens, the U.S. does not.  There is currently a new law that will expand coverage, but it does not cover everyone, and we must still pay for health insurance ourselves.  No, I’m not kidding.  It just make sure we won’t be turned down by the insurance companies.  And then there’s an election coming up and one of the presidential nominees wants to repeal that law, which will only make things worse.  But I could write an entire book on my thoughts about that.  So moving on….  Most of us get health insurance through employers.  Getting it ourselves, without an employer, is very expensive.  When I left my job last fall I got to keep my health insurance.  However, when my long term disability claim was denied, I lost my health insurance.  By law, I am entitled to COBRA.  This allows me to keep my health insurance for up to 18 months (possibly 29 months if I can prove disability) and all I have to do is pay exorbitantly high rates.

Obviously this is bad.  I’m ill so I have to stop working, my long term disability claim is denied, so now I have no income and no health insurance.  This is very very bad.  I start wondering how much COBRA will cost me.  $500?  $600?  And when does it begin?  Does it begin today?  When my LTD was denied a month ago?  When STD ended back in April?  I could owe $2000 in back payments!  Very very bad.

Ruth in HR didn’t know anything, and I can’t blame her – it wasn’t her job.  She promised that Joan would call me back, and asked would I be able to talk this afternoon?  That’s when I lost it.  I do not like to cry in front of other people.  I just don’t.  And I lost it.  I started sobbing about how I was freaking out and I just needed to know.  I’d been trying to reach Joan for weeks and she could call me any time, she could call me at midnight, I just needed to talk to her!  And through the sobs, I could tell that Ruth felt awful about it.

Later I ran into a neighbor I’m friendly with while I was doing laundry in the communal laundry room (with the phone by my side) and when he asked how I was doing, I started crying again.  How embarrassing!  I had good reason, but it was still embarrassing.

I spent the next 5 hours bringing the phone with me everyplace.  I got all the way to the bathroom in my apartment, then trudged back to the living room to get my phone and bring it with me so it would be nearby while I peed.  I took it to the microwave to heat up food.  I had it next to me while I researched my Medicaid (state health insurance for the poor and disabled) options.  I had it on my lap while I briefly thought about going back to work.  (Then I pictured what I’d have to do, and realized I wouldn’t last through the first week.)  I had it with me on the bed while I lay there and cried.  I skipped my shower, just in case.  I wanted to get that call.  Of course, she didn’t call.

As the end of the workday approached, I tried calling Joan and she didn’t answer.  So I called Ruth instead and asked to speak to the head of the department.  Ah ha!  Joan came on the line, apologizing profusely.

At this point I should interrupt myself and say that I don’t blame Joan.  She was covering for the person who normally handles this and the department was understaffed even before that person had to take a leave.  I worked with Joan when I had to set up STD and she was very nice, though hard to reach then too.  This is not her fault.  In fact, she has been sympathetic and kind through the entire thing.

So Joan came on the line and started by simply confirming that my LTD was denied and that I was appealing it.  And here’s where the story finally took an upswing.  But to understand it fully, I should mention that I have a big mouth.  It runs in the family.  My mother’s side are all talkers.  We kid each other about it, and my father’s side jokes about it too, finding us all amusing.  I’m perfectly happy to spend an hour or more on the phone with a friend and not even notice the time flying by.  I can be overly chatty, and sometimes it gets me into trouble.  Often I don’t know when to shut up.  But this time, it saved me.

Joan asked if the LTD company had given me a timeframe for reviewing the appeal.  A normal person would have said, “I haven’t filed the appeal yet, so no.”  Not me.  Oh boy.  No, me and my big mouth started in on, “Well, no, but even if they had I wouldn’t believe it, after they delayed my claim by several weeks and lost part of my file.”  She was horrified and angry and wanted the story, so I told her the whole thing.  And that’s when she told me something crucial that I wish I’d known earlier (but I guess it did make perfect sense once I thought about it): the insurance company has to answer to them!  My employer pays this company and expects their employees to be treated fairly.  And lucky for me, Joan is the person they report to.

To compensate me for my horrible treatment, she would immediately extend my health insurance for two more months as of today.

TWO MONTHS!  I could have fallen over!  I was shocked, relieved, happy, amazed.  This doesn’t fix everything, but it gives me some time, some breathing room.  Medicaid applications are processed in about a month, so I can apply several weeks from now and with any luck, if they approve it, I’ll have Medicaid when my employer-provided health insurance is cancelled.  Whew!

Oh, and as a bonus, she’s going to call the supervisor of my contact at the LTD company and discuss this whole thing.  I planned to address it later, after my claim was settled, but she’s doing it now.  Great!

I did a lot of crying today, which is unusual for me.  At times I felt alone and helpless.  I was angry, confused, and angry again.  Then somehow, unexpectedly, I got a small boost.  It won’t last long, but I’m grateful for it.  I’ll still lose my health insurance, but at least this time I’ll see it coming.

Now I just have to hope my lawyer can file that appeal quickly!

2 Responses to Salt in the wound: losing health insurance

  1. Lorna Field says:

    Sorry that things went from nothing to tumultous. Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel now. Fingers and toes crossed.
    Big Hugs
    Lorna x

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