Thursday, December 19, 2013

Complications in Making Changes in Covered California (Obamacare)

          Register, Enroll, Pay, get medical insurance coverage. If only it was that simple. I should be done with this by now and I never expected to blog so much about Obamacare as I have already. I've even run out of blog ideas this week until this came along. To add a quote by Michael Corleone from the film The Godfather - Part 2, " Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in". Sometimes things just don't work in a logical manner. As Spock would say "It's not logical Jim".
          Case in point: I originally registered with for Obamacare on the day before I got laid off and picked Anthem Blue Cross Silver Plan because that was what I thought I could afford based on the federal subsidy discounts. Then of course the day after, I got laid off, so I made changes on my projected income in the Covered California website. No income would have meant I qualified for Medi-Cal and a few weeks later, I received a letter from Covered California saying so.
          I patiently waited for Medi-Cal to send me more information. When none arrived several weeks later, I finally called the Los Angeles County Medi-Cal phone number that Covered California gave to me in their letter. I was able to speak to a nice lady named Heidi S. who asked me for my updated income and she was able to update that information. However, it was based on a whole year of me receiving unemployment benefits which disqualified me for Medi-Cal. Well, those benefits are only supposed to last for 6 months but the system didn't allow for this, so Heidi said that when my benefits expire in April, I can call them again so they can qualify me for Medi-Cal. She was also able to let me log in to the Covered California website again (remember I was locked out of the system) by giving me an access code and merging a new username and password with my old one. Strange system isn't it? Heidi asked me to upload my new income information but we encountered another glitch - the system would not accept the upload and said to contact system administrator. Heidi told me that they have been able to work around this problem and she had me upload my EDD unemployment benefits data to the California proof of residency link instead. That worked and she was able to qualify me for Obamacare based on reduced income. This reduced income would have enabled me to enroll in a cheaper coverage because of a higher federal subsidy. But then the system would not let me make changes on the original Anthem Blue Cross I was enrolled in. Heidi said she was going to ask her supervisor about this and call me back.
          In the meantime, I got on the treadmill and did a 45 minute hill walk/jog while waiting. I got Heidi's call back after I finished my workout and she said they couldn't do the changes from their end and that I would have to call Covered California. Being pig headed, I tried to make changes in the website myself by inputting everything from the beginning and with the new income that Heidi had helped me with. When it came to the enrollment part and after I tried choosing a new insurance plan, the system still didn't reflect any changes and kept it with Anthem Blue Cross. Believe me, I tried 3 times.
          After lunch, I called the primary Covered California number which gave a very prolonged message in English and Spanish telling me to call another toll free number. I did and the system told me that the waiting time would be more than 30 minutes. I hanged up and called Anthem to find out if they can do it on their end. I was told that Covered California still haven't sent my information to them and until then, they couldn't do anything. I tried Healthnet too and asked them if they can help me enroll directly. They said they could not. It was back to the Covered California phone number then.

          I watched a movie, read the news, surfed the web and waited. Thank goodness I was able to figure out how to listen to the elevator music on my computer speakers instead of holding the phone on my ear. After almost an hour, an agent finally answered the phone. Well I'll be darned but if it wasn't Tony whom I had spoken to about three weeks before about resetting my password and updating my income. I recognized him by his name and accent. He wasn't able to help me several weeks ago, but this time he said he would be able to change my insurance choice. He said that the system doesn't allow for the consumer to make the changes because otherwise people would keep on doing it if they were not satisfied. He made the changes in his computer then I tried to log in to see them. The system would not let me do it. Tony gave me another number that I can call to reset my password and also gave me a California State Client I.D. number which he said would help me in the future. After we hanged up, I emptied the cache of my browser and tried to log in again. Surprise, surprise, I was able to! It looks like Covered CA will not let me log in when agent is logged in and is using or updating my data.  It showed the changes that Tony made and I was now supposedly enrolled in Healthnet Platinum Plan instead of Anthem Blue Cross Silver Plan. Even though I didn't get the free Medi-Cal insurance I had hoped for, because of the higher federal subsidy, I was able to get better coverage for lesser money with Healthnet. Thank you so much Tony! Now I have to wait for Healthnet to bill me and send me my enrollment information. Then in April, if I'm still unemployed, I can try for Medi-Cal again.
          With all the complications and glitches I've experienced so far, I should be in critical condition by now.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Glitches I've Encountered With Covered California (Obamacare)

          Even though the Covered California website ( didn't have as many glitches as the federal website, it still wasn't smooth sailing as should be expected. In my first attempt at applying in October, the section where I was supposed to enter my citizenship information stopped me in my tracks because it wouldn't take the A90 number of my citizenship certificate. The website showed an error code and told me to contact the System Administrator. Well, I don't work for them so I didn't have a way of doing that. A week later, it miraculously accepted my citizenship info and I was able to proceed. So my registration was completed and the website presented me with options on what companies and insurance coverage I preferred based on my projected income in 2014 if I was still employed. Unfortunately, the next day, I was laid off so that changed the income equation.  If I remained unemployed in 2014, that means I would not have an income, so I had to make revisions with Covered California. When I tried to input my projected income of zero dollars, the website would not accept the value, however, when I put in 1 cent per hour, it was accepted. To prove that my income had changed, I was asked by the website to upload whatever evidence I had. I was able to upload my WARN Act Letter and my Termination Notice. Based on a projected annual income of $1,664 a year, I qualified for free insurance coverage through Medi-cal which is California' version of Medicaid. I don't know how much Medi-cal covers but at least it's free and better than not having any health insurance coverage.
          A couple of weeks later, I logged on the website to check on my status and it showed me that I was approved for Medi-cal based on my revised projected income and the evidence I provided. However, I didn't know what the next step was. By that time I had started receiving unemployment benefits so I had to update my information and report my new income. I would still be receiving substantially less than the $15,800 threshold for subsidized private insurance where I have to pay a certain amount, so I would still qualify for Medi-cal. As required by the rules to be truthful with my information, I tried to make the changes to my income. Again I hit a roadblock similar to the one with the citizenship information. Thinking maybe the website was too busy to process the new information, I tried to log in again in the evening. This is where a new problem cropped up. The website said I entered the wrong password so I tried to be more careful the second time. I got the same message so I clicked on the "Forgot Password" link which brought up some challenge questions to prove my identity. I know for sure that I answered them correctly but the website locked me out.
          The next day, I contacted customer service via Instant Messaging and was told to call the customer service number for help in resetting my password. I did that and after about a 35 minute wait, I talked to someone who told me to wait 24 hours before trying to log in again. He said that should help in trying to reset my password. While he was on the phone with me, I asked him if he could change my income information. He found me via my case number and did what I tried the day before. He failed as well because his computer gave him the same error message that I got. His advice was to just let it go since the new information wouldn't change my qualifying for Medi-cal anyway.
          I waited for more than 48 hours before trying to log in again but was still locked out of the system, and wouldn't even allow me to change my password. It didn't even ask the challenge questions again but rather just told me to call the toll free number. I sent an email to customer service with my dilemma and they were supposed to respond within 2 days. Two weeks later, I still haven't gotten one. Being bullheaded, I called customer service again and got someone on the line within half an hour. I asked him about resetting my password and he said that they are not allowed to do that anymore. What should I do if I needed to update my info, I asked? He said I would have to do it over the phone. Like the previous representative, he suggested that I leave well enough alone with the income situation, because I would be assigned a Medi-cal caseworker anyway at a later date who would verify my income.
          On December 5, 2013, I finally received a letter via snail mail stating that I didn't qualify for lower cost subsidies for private insurance, but rather I qualified for Medi-cal. At least now I know that my information was in the system. I was to wait for more paperwork, but this time it would be coming from Medi-cal and not from Covered California.
          Another glitch I encountered with the website is the Instant Messaging system. Sometimes after waiting in the queue for a long time while it counts down until you become number 1, the system kicks you off and says that no representative is available. This happened to me twice. So I think it's better to wait on the phone or do both at the same time if you want to talk to anybody.

          Time it was when I was so naive before I moved to the U.S. when I thought that if ever I become sick in America, I could just go to the nearest hospital's charity ward. After living here since 1981, I still haven't seen a charity ward in all the hospitals I've worked in.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Running Alzheimer's or Amnesia?

          It would be too easy to say that the only thing that runs in me is my nose, nor can I say that I like my eggs runny since I don't eat eggs anymore. In the past month since I've become unemployed, I've had the runs, or rather, I started running again. Not very much - just a couple of times a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus a walk/run at Signal Hill on Saturdays with the Long Beach Area Walking Club. The weekday runs only lasts between 30 and 45 minutes which are substitutes for indoor cycling the rest of the week. I'm able to try running again because even though I might overstretch my ankle tendons, I don't have to go to work and dodge potentially violent psychiatric patients. Here is what I found out: all the muscle memory from decades of running has developed Alzheimer's Disease or at the very least, amnesia. My body has forgotten how to run and it feels like I have tired legs all the time. You know - the way your legs feel the day after a very long run or a hard interval workout. When I was forced to stop running due to PTTD a few years ago, my aerobic capacity was way ahead of the slow pace my legs were capable of doing. Nowadays even when I force myself to run the slowest pace possible, it still makes me breathless and I don't seem to be able to get into a steady state anymore. Maybe if I run a couple more times a week, I might get my running legs back but twice is all that my muscles would allow due to my year long statin-induced muscle pain. I'm not sure whether it's only my muscles that can't go longer or if it is my brain that gets tired more quickly. The mental toughness I once had when training for marathons is also now gone. Am I complaining about losing muscle and mental endurance? It's certainly understandable for me to lament it, but since I wasn't expecting much, I'm pretty content on being able to do my 30 to 45 minutes of the slowest possible jogging that my body allows. I don't foresee myself running in races anymore or training with the AREC running club, but once in a while I might challenge myself with a very long walk like the birthday walks I do, or maybe in 2014, it might be a run/walk combination. In the meantime, I'll ride this running wave as long as I possibly can.

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