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.”
Two weeks later, Helen’s paperwork arrived by mail. She was horrified to discover that she now had exactly what she had struggled to avoid: welfare.
The man on the Obamacare hotline had lied to Helen. He had enrolled her in Medicaid. She was being roped into public assistance after all.
Helen dialed the Obamacare hotline in a blaze of disappointment. “You misled me!” she said. “I want to cancel the whole thing and get my own insurance.”
“Are you sure?” the Obamacare tele-navigator asked soothingly. “This is such a good plan for you.” While Helen remembers the woman on the phone being quite amiable, she also was quite insistent: Helen should keep the plan into which the government had corralled her. Helen sensed that Obama’s agents were laboring to lasso her into government dependency through a subpar entitlement. After all, the more people who get addicted to Obamacare’s subsidies sooner, the harder it will be to padlock this program later.
But Helen was equally firm: She didn’t like her plan, and she didn’t want to keep her plan. Period.
The Obamacare woman told Helen, “Remember, if you don’t have health care, you will have to pay a penalty.” (Note that she didn’t say, “If you don’t have insurance . . . ” She said, “If you don’t have health care . . . ,” as if these two terms were synonymous.)
“I don’t care,” Helen told the Obamacare navigator. “I didn’t want welfare, and you said it wasn’t welfare. But it is. You lost my information. I never wanted this terrible Obamacare. You forced me to get it. I was happy with what I had before. I don’t like the way Obama is forcing us to do things.”
The cheerful Obamacare operative suddenly said something ominous: “You do know that this call is being monitored.”
“I don’t care,” Helen shot back. “This damn Obamacare sucks.”
After all that time and trouble, the government finally canceled Helen’s Obamacare plan.
Helen eventually bought her own plan from Assurent. She learned about it outside the Obamacare exchange, on a TV commercial. This private insurer did not irritate Helen with intimate questions. Assurent merely inquired about her medical history and what she could afford to pay. They then tailored a plan that fit her circumstances.
Assurent warned Helen that her policy might not comply with the strictures of the (un)Affordable Care Act, such as its unfathomable mandate that her new policy (and all others) include maternity care — at age 60. Thus, Assurent told Helen to expect a tax penalty for refusing to obey Obamacare. Furthermore, Assurent warned Helen to assume that her Obamacare-non-compliant policy will be canceled next year. Conveniently enough, for Obama and the Democrats, this follows November’s midterm elections.
For now, Helen’s policy costs $177 per month. This $2,124 annual expense equals 15 percent of her $14,160 income in 2013. (Her earnings dropped 5.6 percent last year as she sacrificed working hours to help her husband battle colon cancer. He passed away last December.) This new expense, which Obama imposed on Helen, exceeds her income tax. Yet Helen is proud that she still pays her own way, rather than receive welfare.
Helen scoffs at her friends who are grateful that Obama has given them “free” medical insurance via Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.
“It’s not free,” Helen says. “I pay my taxes and so does everyone else. So, if I get something for nothing, taxpayers pay for it. So, it’s not free.”
Helen now embodies what happens when the government promises everyone everything for nothing. Hers is just one scary cameo in the endless 3-D Imax horror epic called Obamacare.
– Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.