Helen lives in Pennsylvania. Her experience with Obamacare has left her so humiliated that she wants to keep her surname to herself.
Helen’s pride and self-respect reflect her intense sense of independence. This 60-year-old widow, a self-employed house cleaner, has survived on an annual personal income of approximately $15,000. She pays her own Social Security taxes and tells me that she never has accepted a penny of public assistance. She always has wanted to rely only on herself.
Helen could not afford health insurance, but she deliberately avoided government medical programs. Instead, she was happy with the care that she had received for the last 20 years at Health Link in Southampton, Pa. At this free clinic, doctors donate their time to see self-employed people whose low incomes are documented via their tax returns. Among other things, Health Link arranged for Helen to see dentists and other specialists and receive no-cost pharmaceuticals.
Nonetheless, this lifelong Democrat considered it her duty to sign up for Obamacare. After all, it is the law. And Helen did not want to pay the penalty for violating the individual mandate.
So, last October, Helen visited HealthCare.gov and smacked into the same delays and diversions that have flummoxed so many Americans. She rang the HealthCare.gov help line and spoke with someone whom she described as sweet and friendly. The woman on the phone, who never gave her name, listened to Helen and then recommended that she seek public assistance.
“Public assistance?” Helen erupted. “That sounds like welfare. I raised my family my whole life and never took one penny of welfare — ever. Why would I want to take government aid now? This is why the system is the way it is today. I am an honest person, and this is why I am refusing welfare.” The woman kept firing questions at her. Helen felt as if the navigator wanted to derail her train of thought, break her down, and make her surrender and accept government aid.
Helen says the Obamacare navigator told her that she did not meet the criteria to qualify for Obamacare. Still, since Helen already had started the application, the navigator told her to complete it. This devoured another hour and 45 minutes. The application was filled with some three dozen deeply personal questions about her bank account, health condition, and even HIV status.
“I felt violated,” Helen said. “It was as if they thought I was a criminal.”
After two weeks, Helen received a letter. The federal government deemed her ineligible and denied her Obamacare.
Helen called the Obamacare phone line once again. She was furious. After spending all of that time and answering all of those questions on an application she never wanted to fill out, she had nothing to show for her efforts.
That day’s nameless navigator said that she could not find Helen’s paperwork.
Helen exploded anew.
“I gave you so much personal information, and now you tell me you lost my application?”
The navigator began asking even more questions. Annoyed, Helen said she had furnished Obamacare enough details about her life.
A few moments later, the voice of a gentleman at the Obamacare phone bank emerged from Helen’s receiver. Quite politely, Helen recalls, he directed her to a female supervisor who told her to reapply.
“You lost my first application,” Helen explained, yet again. “Where did all of my personal information go? Who has it and who is looking at it?” Exasperated, she asked, “What good is it to reapply if this is how Obama does things?”
Feeling she had little choice in the matter, however, Helen reapplied for Obamacare. She repeatedly asked the Obamacare navigators by phone, “This is not welfare, now, is it?” They reassured her that it was not. Helen could receive $616 per month ($7,392 annually) to help cover her insurance expenses, one navigator explained. But, the Obamacare representative warned, “You may not fit into the Affordable Care Act criteria, and if you earn more than $15,000, you may be taxed on the extra earnings.”