The author, with his mom and sister.
The Bush years were not kind to my family. Between 2000 and 2011, my parents went from earning high six-figures to roughly $50,000 a year at the Puppy Palace, the pet store my mom owns and my father manages in Hollywood, Florida. During this period, the store’s staff declined from 25 full-time employees to less than ten part-time employees and one full-time employee who received health care through her husband.
This happened as both my parents’ health declined. My mom battled lupus and recurring blood clots thanks to a mutated gene, which I inherited, and my father was diagnosed with pancreatitis in spring 2011, causing him to spend three months in a coma and die four times—he was magically resuscitated and now suffers from diabetes and a poor memory. Although we had insurance that covered my parents and four out of their five children, our medical bills skyrocketed over the past ten years—last month, the pet store paid over $3,000 to Aetna for my family’s insurance alone.
Because of this, my parents celebrated when Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. They thought Obamacare would decrease our medical payments—Obama promised the bill would help small businesses—and my parents grew up in the British Commonwealth, where socialized medicine took care of everyone. My parents’ opinion changed on October 5, however, when the Puppy Palace received a letter from Aetna saying they were canceling the insurance policy we’ve had since January 2001 because of Obamacare.
“The Affordable Care Act is bringing more changes in 2014,” the letter said. “ACA requires us to make significant changes to our health benefits plan designs. We cannot renew your existing plan in 2014. We are replacing our entire small employer portfolio with new health benefit plans that comply with the 2014 ACA requirements. You will have many options available to meet your health benefits needs. Your existing coverage will continue until your policy period ends in 2014. At that time you can purchase any of these new 2014 policies.”
Although the letter said it included new plan options, they were nowhere to be seen. Earlier today, my mother called Aetna. An employee told her a letter was sent in June giving my family the option to renew our plan early. We didn’t renew six months early, so they canceled it. The employee said Aetna would mail us a list of new plans next week, and that they would be more expensive than our previous insurance plan.
In August a Humana salesman called my mother to offer her Humana insurance. She told him she had been an Aetna customer since 2001 and didn’t need insurance. He warned her that she would likely lose her insurance because of the ACA, and she would likely pay more for insurance because of our family’s pre-existing health conditions. According to Forbes, 500,000 people in three states are now in the same situation—only 476,000 Obamacare applications have been filed nationwide. This week, the Miami Herald reported that Florida Blue cancelled 300,000 health insurance policies.
But it’s not fair to lay the blame for these cancelations solely at Obamacare’s doorstep. Some health care advocates believe insurance companies are using the ACA to dump expensive customers. Jerry Flanagan, an attorney at California’s Consumer Watchdog, told Kaiser Health News companies might be “doing this as an opportunity to push their populations into the exchange and purge their systems.”
Desperate to have coverage by January 1, my mother texted me her tax ID number and asked me to log-on to healthcare.gov and find the best option. (With the exception of her Instagram account dedicated to puppies, my mother is computer illiterate and asks me to solve most of her technological problems, since I work on the internet.)
At first, the site seemed functional. I entered my mother’s name and then was directed to a screen that asked me to create a username and password that combined numbers, lowercase and capitalized letters. Easy. I typed in a password and the site sent me to another screen, which asked me to answer three security questions.
I filled out the questions and then received this message:
Assuming I had accidentally chosen the same two questions, I restarted the process. This time I made sure to enter three different questions. Once again, I received the same error screen.
In only 15 minutes, healthcare.gov had failed me. I’m used to government websites like the DMV’s screwing up, because, you know, baby boomers run the government, and what the hell do baby boomers know about the internet? But this time it wasn’t my ability to renew my license at risk—the ACA website had taken my family’s health hostage. And the site preventing me from finding health insurance for my family cost $634 million dollars to create—that’s more than it cost to build Facebook and Twitter combined. As it turns out the Affordable Care Act isn’t affordable at all.
In response to the problems associated with the ACA possibly eliminating health insurance for 500,000 people who already had it, Obama admitted at a Rose Garden event that the site “has not worked as smoothly as it was supposed to.” His solution? Asking “Team Obamacare” to promote the ACA. Now, not only am I out of an insurance plan, but the leader of my country is acting like a Real Housewife tweeting to their fans, asking them to promote their brunch meet-and-greets.
But T.O.’s publicity stunts won’t fix healthcare.gov or restore the reliable health care my family has had since 2001. Next week, my mother will call the Obamacare hotline and health insurance companies, but she’s skeptical that a solution to our problem will present itself. The previous American medical system was fucked up, and our old health insurance was expensive, but at least we had insurance. Here’s to hoping Obamacare gets it shit together, but as of right now my family, like many others, has been left out in the cold.