Opinion

My trouble with free health care | Mandel

I've run into a major problem with Obamacare: I can't get rid of my free health care.

Let's retrace my freeloading steps.

I've held a string of full-time jobs since college that always offered health insurance. I moved to Seattle in July 2013, months before open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act. I started this adventure without any known employment, so I coasted for a month on COBRA. Some freelance writing paid by the hour, but no benefits, so I traveled the private insurance route for the first time. I purchased an affordable plan that covered the basics for just over $100 per month. That plan more than doubled on Jan. 1. This increase also coincided with the bubble bursting on my freelance opportunities.

Thus, I was down to one job, which paid $50 per article — and they only needed me to write one article per week.

Although I am a pretty frugal man, even I can't live off $200 a month in Capitol Hill, where my relatively inexpensive rent for a studio apartment cost upwards of $1,000 per month. Luckily, I had a Sugar Mama (I love you, Laura) to keep me afloat. Barely.

So back to the insurance situation.

I wasn't sure what to expect with the new health plan portal. All I'd heard were complaints in the media. They were basically all true.

Calling was worthless. The website would freeze before I could enter anything about myself.

The system eventually improved.

After about a week, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange website allowed me to document my monthly income to see what plan I'd qualify for. So I double checked my math and, yup, still just $200 a month. I'd qualified for Apple Health Care. I never needed to show proof, and, as far as I know, they never validated my truthfulness with any sort of background check. I also found no expiration date.

I didn't know what Apple Health Care really meant, and I had trouble finding anyone who could explain it to me.

Eventually, I was told this meant absolutely free health care. For anything. Like Medicaid. In fact, it was Medicaid.

This sounded wonderful. Perhaps a little too wonderful. I felt a little dirty. I was still surviving on savings and didn't want to be sucking from the taxpayer teat if not truly on my last couple pennies.

It's not that I'm ungrateful. I appreciate the idea of free health care for those, like I was, who need help in a transition or are down on their luck. But I also understand some of the critics: Why would I need to look for a full-time job? Health insurance was my main concern while unemployed.

Yet, what was I to do? I'm not one to turn down free. I received a card in the mail and it sat in my wallet.

I decided that I would only use it for emergencies... But, then again, my ankle still hurt from when I twisted it in beer-league volleyball months prior. Plus, my teeth could surely use a cleaning. Seems like my brain could always use a scan.

Before any schemes could bear fruition, I signed on to my current job, and with it came the perks of health care.

That leads to the crux of my current quandary: I've tried multiple times to cancel my Apple Care plan, but have been unable to do so.

As far as I can tell, there is no "let me out" option online. I've called multiple phone numbers three or four times and sent an email asking to help me cancel, but, as far as I know, I'm still being covered. It seems as though they don't want me to leave.

And, like every customer service nightmare, the calls to cancel are so frustrating. It's a transfer from one machine to another, with none of the options applying to me. I dial zero dozens of times and ask for the operator and get nowhere. The automation has simply hung up on me at least once.

So, I've resigned myself to staying covered for free at everyone else's expense forever. At least I'm helping the sign up numbers — doing my part in the Land of the Free.

Reach Eric Mandel, of the Covington-Maple Valley Reporter, at emandel@covingtonreporter.com

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