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A Mom's Real-Time Experience With Healthcare.gov

Photo via Veer

I saw a commercial the other day that captured my attention, but likely for all the wrong reasons. It featured an older woman, one who inspired feelings of warmth and grandmotherly love, talking about her experience fighting cancer. She was speaking out against the Affordable Care Act, explaining that she had received the best treatment in the world as she fought for her life, and that ACA would mean losing our ability to provide that same level of care to people just like her.

I found it ironic, if only because most in this country can't actually afford that "best treatment in the world" she was touting. They are strapped with no insurance or mediocre coverage at best, faced with choosing between putting food on the table for their children or attending to their own medical needs. Medical debt is the No. 1 reason for bankruptcy in this country.

Is it still considered the best treatment in the world, if it isn't accessible by all? Or even by the majority?

Prior to ACA, my preexisting condition would have made it impossible for me to receive coverage at all.

I am, and always have been, in favor of health care reform. Even more so since becoming sick myself four years ago, racking up nearly $50,000 in medical debt, despite having what most would consider "good" health insurance. I became self-employed this year, a leap I took because isn't that the American dream—to be able to pursue our passions and make a living doing it? For me, this leap also meant being able to be the kind of mother I wanted to be to my daughter: having the flexibility to limit her hours at daycare and to attend to her needs myself as much as possible while still paying our bills and putting food on our plates.

I work hard doing something I love, and I am lucky. I make a pretty decent paycheck doing it as well. But one of the perks I gave up when leaving the corporate world was the good health insurance I had always coveted before. I retained COBRA for several months, paying out of pocket for the coverage my company had previously subsidized. With them, my premiums had been $150 a month, and by the time I left the corporate world this year, my deductible was $450 a year, and my doctor's appointments ran me 20% a visit after my deductible was met. With COBRA I was paying $750 a month and still had the same deductible and fee for doctor's visits.

I know many, many people who don't have insurance anywhere near comparable to what I had. It was a huge difference, but the other health care options available to me as a self-employed woman weren't even kind of comparable. High deductibles, limited coverage, and premiums that were still a great deal more than I had been paying before. Suddenly it made more sense not to carry insurance at all than it did to keep paying for COBRA or to buy into one of those plans.

Last month I let my COBRA coverage drop. This isn't something I have told many people at all, because it makes me painfully nervous to admit. But I had been paying for it for months, never once even needing to visit the doctor during that time. It amounted to thousands out of my pocket, and I couldn't justify the cost anymore. I told myself I would save some money over the next few months, hoping and praying for affordable options under ACA starting in January.

I took a gamble knowing that, if ACA didn't pan out, I would have to give up on my dream and the many possibilities that dream provides to us, returning to the corporate world if only for the health coverage.

Luckily, my daughter has been covered since she was born. As an Alaskan Native, she is entitled to free health care for life. This is a fact which has set me at ease from day one: knowing she will never have to face the same stress I have; the mounting credit card bills as a result of medical debt incurred even while insured. The coverage she has up here is amazing, and the facilities are top-of-the-line. I have never had to pay a cent for her care. I am grateful every day knowing that, no matter what, she will always have access to the treatment she needs. The concern has simply been keeping me, as her mommy, healthy and cared for as well.

Quality health care should not be something available only to those in the upper class.

I am a college-educated 30-year-old woman, working since I was 14 years old. I have never been on welfare, and I have essentially been paying my own way in life since the day I turned 18. I say all these things not to imply that I am somehow more deserving of health care than someone who doesn't meet the same criteria (I am no more deserving than anyone else) but rather to confront the right-wing mythology that chooses to portray all those in favor of health care reform as being greedy, lazy or looking for a handout. I am none of those. But I do feel that as an industrialized nation, our citizens should not be forced to choose between feeding their families and being able to afford the treatment they may need. Quality health care should not be something available only to those in the upper class.

So I waited anxiously for October 1, wondering what kind of options would actually be available. I remained cautiously optimistic, not sure what to expect. But at midnight I went to Healthcare.gov, eager to gain access to those options and see what might be available.

As most of you know by now, that may have been a bit too optimistic on my part. After hours of attempting to maneuver the system, I was meeting all the same errors; getting booted back to previous screens, alerted to messages which apparently did not exist and basically not making any headway at all.

Over the following days, my failed efforts continued, almost to the point of hilarity. I received multiple emails about messages waiting for me in the system, but I couldn't seem to find a message center anywhere. I had a flashing button imploring me to view my eligibility results, but nothing happened when I clicked it. Again and again for days, when I was lucky enough to get in, I found myself getting nowhere.

No one could tell me when they expected to resolve the issues, or even what my eligibility results might be.

Eventually I called the helpline, and then attempted to use the online chat option. Both yielded the same scripted results:

"We have a lot of visitors trying to use our Web site right now. That is causing some glitches for some people trying to create accounts or log in. Keep trying and thank you for your patience. You might have better success during off-peak hours, like later at night or early in the morning. We will continue working to improve the site so you can get covered."

No one could tell me when they expected to resolve the issues, or even what my eligibility results might be. I asked to have them mailed to me, but was told that since I had applied online that option was no longer possible. I would simply have to wait until the system was up and running optimally.

I finally stepped away from the computer, reminding myself that I usually give Apple updates a month or two to work out any glitches before trying them for myself. Certainly I could give a massive Web site being launched at this scale a few weeks of the same patience, particularly when coverage isn't even available until January 1.

Today, I tried again—two weeks after my initial attempts. When I experienced the same issues, I called the helpline once more. This time, instead of receiving the same script, however, I spoke to an agent who was actually able to walk me through the process. And lo and behold—I had my eligibility results.

I qualify for a subsidy of $121, payable directly toward my coverage. There are 34 different plans available to me, outlined as being Bronze, Silver, Gold or Premium in standard. The Gold and Silver plans are the closest to the coverage I have received up to this point in my life, and I nearly wept with relief when I saw the final breakdowns.

Premiums ranging from $250 to $350 a month, deductibles anywhere from $750 to $1500, and doctor visits that were set at a flat rate of $30 a visit—without having to meet the deductible first.

Of the 34 plans available to me, 21 fall into this Silver or Gold range. I have a lot of reviewing to do as I work through the options and decide which plan will best suit my needs. I don't want to mislead anyone; if I were still working for a large corporation, my plan there would undoubtedly be better than anything I can get on my own. But I knew that all along, and it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone currently working in those big office jobs either. These options available through ACA probably won't be the better route for you. But for people like me, self-employed and looking for comparable coverage, the options I now have in front of me are absolutely more affordable than what I have had up to this point. I will be paying half of what I was in monthly premiums for COBRA, receiving coverage that is actually even better in a few different areas.

At least from my end, those options are a huge improvement from what has been available up to this point.

There were 49 million people in 2011 who were uninsured. Those people aren't all greedy or lazy or looking for handouts. Many of them are self-employed. Some work for small companies that, prior to ACA, couldn't afford to provide coverage for their employees. Plenty were downsized and couldn't afford the astronomical costs of COBRA. Or they were still struggling to find jobs even after their COBRA coverage ran out. But all have options now.

And at least from my end, those options are a huge improvement from what has been available up to this point. Come January, I will be able to breathe a sigh of relief once more, knowing that I, and millions of others just like me, have access to that "best health care in the world" I keep hearing about.

I'll also still have that $50,000 in medical debt that I am diligently chipping away at, but at least we are taking a step in the right direction as a country.

Maybe, one day, we will all be as lucky as my little girl: confident in the knowledge that quality health care is simply be a given. Until then, I'm just proud to know that soon, everyone will at least have access to the kind of care we each deserve.

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