Medicaid a Fickle and Vindictive Friend
A couple of years ago, when my ex-husband pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges and stopped working (I should say stopped embezzling) and paying for health insurance for my kids; when I graduated from grad school and lost my own tuition-financed health insurance, I got one of those Husky forms when signing my kids up for school. Husky is the State of Connecticut’s program providing medical care for uninsured children. So I filled out the form, not expecting much.
I was surprised and grateful when not only my children received state-funded health insurance, but I did as well. They took one look at our situation, apparently, and gave us all Medicaid. We each got insurance cards for doctor and hospital visits, and a different card for free prescriptions.
We switched to a doctor’s office that took Medicaid – it’s usually a community health clinic that serves the poor — and then found a new clinic when we lost our house and moved. If your Medicaid-accepting doctor is closed when you get sick or injured or when you’re away from home, you must go to an Emergency Room, because most doctors do not take Medicaid. So we got used to going to the ER for beestings, earaches, broken tailbones.
Having Medicaid removed the fear that I wouldn’t be able to get medical attention for my kids if they were sick. It removed the fear that one accident could wipe me out financially forever. We liked the doctors we saw and we got good care, although appointments generally involved a lot more waiting (both to get the appointment and then to get in to actually see the doctor when you arrived for your appointment).
All of this was manna from heaven for us – until last week when I went to get a prescription filled. The pharmacy said I had no insurance coverage. I called the number on my insurance card, and they told me to call the local social services office, and after waiting on hold for about 45 minutes (on my cell phone, running up my cell phone bill), I learned from a woman in this office that our Medicaid had been all cancelled, effective the end of January, or about five days earlier.
I asked the social services woman why it was cancelled, and she lectured me, saying I was supposed to notify them right away if I moved and that was probably why the Medicaid stopped, and repeating this a couple of times in case I didn’t realize that I had violated the Bureaucratic Requirements of free health insurance.
When you get stuff for free, you are supposed to humbly jump through all hoops, even the invisible ones.
When we lost our home and moved last June, I had found a new community clinic, managed to get all three of us in for our “initial visit,” which you must do before you can actually become a patient and which you usually have to wait months for (this took a lot of finagling for my eleven-year-old son, who attends boarding choir school in Manhattan. How to get him in for an “initial” appointment in the Hartford, CT area, over two hours away? When he’s not allowed to leave school at all during the week? It turned out that he got sick when he was home on vacation, so I got them to let me bring him in.)
I had also sought counseling for my daughter and me at the local social services center, and visited a career counselor there, and generally made myself known to every kind of social service agency I could conjure. But the Medicaid bureaucrats were apparently ignorant of our whereabouts despite all of that. My bad — in the midst of my foreclosure and my job-search efforts and my re-enrolling my kid in a new school, and my efforts to get my kids’ last name changed from my criminal ex-husband’s name (another subject — I was partially successful), I neglected to call some specific Medicaid bureaucracy phone number. I neglected to do any kind of Official Announcements or New Address cards because I was renting an apartment on a temporary, month-to-month basis.
So, without any warning, my two children and I are without health insurance. And my daughter and I had just managed to get in for our first appointment with the dentist in our new community, after the cancellation date. They took tons of X rays, which are expensive.
You would think I would be in a panic. I was very concerned, but so many things like this have happened that I reacted with stoic action. How to I reinstate the insurance? I asked the lecturing lady. She told me I She told me I would have to do a whole new application.. How long would it take? Oh, around six weeks. Would I be able to get retroactive coverage? Possibly. She told me not to go in to the office, despite my haste, but to mail in the application and she gave me an address.
Since I had managed to actually talk to a human social services person, I asked her about the food stamps (now called SNAP in Connecticut) I had applied for about a month ago and had been leaving messages inquiring about and hearing nothing back about. The social services lady sighed and looked up my case. They did not have my food stamp, er SNAP application (which, by the way, had my current address on it). She said it probably got sent to Danbury. I said Danbury? Why Danbury? I never lived in Danbury. She sighed louder and made the effort to look more carefully, and then said Stamford, which made more sense. But, the SNAP application was gone and would also have to be re-done.
Since I was sending in both applications I would have to send both of them to a different address from the address she had already given me (??).
I spent a day filling out both applications, and then, to cover my ass, I sent both to both addresses, indicating clearly that I had done so.
I am expecting that my extra effort will backfire and cause some kind of confusion that will delay matters. Oh, well, what’s the worst that could happen? One of my kids would get sick and I would get bills for the rest of my life or max out my credit card, or my credit would be more damaged.
Then the housemothers called from my son’s school, saying he was sick with severe stomach pain and an asthmatic cough. Appendicitus? I asked. They thought perhaps an ulcer. I should take him to the doctor as soon as possible.
Here I ought to write a conclusion generalizing my situation out to the public — all of us who are struggling — and I should make a comment about how the bureaucratic concerns of being poor are so burdensome they impinge on resolving the cause – unemployment. I should say that universal healthcare is a basic human right and necessity, and people shouldn’t have to live in fear here in the United States, yes one of the richest countries in the world, because medical care is denied to your children if you don’t have an employer that pays for it or an embattled state bureaucracy that you’ve happened to discover and you’ve happened to dot all your i’s with this particular bureaucracy despite your circumstances. But that would be like lecturing.
Next: My Adventures with Unemployment Benefits
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