My experience with Medicare, Peggy's attempts to get Obamacare

First Medicare

I’m about to start my second year on Medicare (the US government's healthcare insurance program for the disabled and people over 65), and I’ve learned two things. One is that I love my Medicare Supplement insurer—State Mutual of Georgia—and the second is that I loathe my Medicare drug insurer—Humana—and its lame-ass online pharmacy, RightSource. I just switched my drug insurer to Express Scripts, which has the highest customer satisfaction rating of any stand-alone drug provider, and, like Humana, has its own pharmacy. After what I pay for my four prescriptions is figured in, I’ll come out cheaper paying Express Scripts $55.90 a month instead of the $12.80 that I’m currently paying Humana. My total Medicare insurance costs for 2015 will come to $3,500. Medicare is what happens when the government takes what should be an easy to understand insurance program and throws it to the wolves, that is to the private insurers that hide the true cost to consumers behind a wall of options, legalese, and acronyms. It is not for the good of the individual that scores of companies offer scores of impossible to compare plans.

I started Medicare two months after breaking my back last November. I had plenty of time on my hands, so I began to study my Medicare options in the na├»ve belief that it would be fun and interesting, but it turned out to be a nightmare, the understanding of which would require a team of lawyers to evaluate and compare 120 page insurance contracts, one after another after another. This is why most people buy their Medicare policies from private agents. The downside of doing this is that these agents are themselves largely ignorant, and their primary goal isn’t to help the consumer but to make money by selling the policies of the very few companies that they represent. It’s also true that not all insurance companies sell through agents, and those that don’t can offer better prices because they don’t have to pay commissions. State Mutual of Georgia is one of them. You either buy from them yourself or not at all.

Dealing with Humana’s pharmacy—RightSource—is so bad that I would qualify it as abusive. The policyholder part of its website is all but undecipherable, and filling every order for every drug is so time-consuming and tedious that I never know if I will ever receive my order, but certainly not in less than three weeks. RightSource is such a joke that I have come to wonder if it's in Humana’s interest to deprive customers of their drugs. After it repeatedly “lost” or delayed order after order placed by my friend, Walt, on the behalf of his senile parents, Walt stopped even trying to use his parents’ insurance, and started paying the full costs for their drugs himself. The last straw for me came when someone at UPS stole my monthly order of oxycodone, and RightSource took it out on me by refusing to ever again ship me oxycodone. They knew the loss wasn't my fault, but they simply didn't want to be bothered with trying to ship narcotics to someone who had had a problem receiving them.

Obamacare, aka The Affordable Care Act

As tedious as Medicare is, it’s a hell of a lot better than what most people have. Unfortunately, Peggy is 63, and she can’t start Medicare until she is 65. Since she recently retired, she will hopefully go on Obamacare, which, like Medicare, is a government program that is run by private insurers. She initially tried to go on Obamacare when she retired this summer, and to this end, I (being the one who handles her business) registered her with Obamacare in March, but even though I started five months early, I still couldn’t get her a policy before she retired. This was due to the failure of Oregon’s Obamacare website whose creators are now being scrutinized by the feds to discover how all those millions could disappear without anything but an unusable website to show for it. Because she couldn’t get on Obamacare when she first retired, she bought a catastrophic insurance policy that is nonrenewable and expires on December 31.

Applications for Obamacare for next year opened on November 15, and I started an application for her on the national site on the 18th. No sooner had I set a username and password than I was locked out of the account that I had just created. I called their toll-free number, and an agent spent a couple of hours trying unsuccessfully to fix the problem. I spent many more hours over the next two days talking to different agents without ever getting logged-on. The last agent gave up, and said he would fill out the form himself and snail mail it to me. I didn’t see how this would enable us to buy a policy when we couldn’t even compare the policies (when I try to look at them online, all I get is six blank pages with the following words at the top of the first page: “Here are your 59 policy options”), but it seemed better than nothing. He was almost through with filling out the fairly long form when the software reloaded and all of Peggy's information was deleted.

I finally tried to create a whole new account for Peggy by using another email address, and this seemed to work, but when I tried to finish filling out the required form, the pages wouldn’t load. This has happened everyday since, so I haven’t been able to finish setting up her account, and I still can’t see the policy options, something that I should be able to do without having an account.

This is the state of insurance in America. If you work for a big company, you probably have insurance unless that big company is a franchise like McDonalds in which case you have no insurance; you don’t make enough to buy insurance; and the taxpayer is left to pay your medical bills through a program for the impoverished called Medicaid. On the other hand, if you’re disabled or over 65, you probably have Medicare. If you're not insured at work, or impoverished, or old or disabled, your insurance policy consists of hoping to god you don’t get sick because, unless you’re rich, you’re going to wind-up in bankruptcy court if you do. No matter how long and hard most people work or how much they save, few people can stay solvent when they’re too disabled to continue working, and they owe a half-million or more in medical bills, medical bills being the leading cause of bankruptcy in America. Obama promised to put an end to all that, but the dumb-fuck can’t even get a website up and running no matter how much time and money he throws at it. 

Going deeper

When I lived in Minneapolis, I had a friend who collected the antique trappings of Christianity.

Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father…

He didn’t go to church, and he wasn’t a Christian, yet he was captivated by statues, censers, crucifixes, and altar bells because he believed they were magical, and that their magic would fill him if he was surrounded by them.

We worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory…

I too am a dilettante and idolater. I don’t care about the poor, the crucifixion, or the Trinity, but I get off on religion just as I used to get off on women and hallucinogens.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us; you are seated at the right hand of the Father, receive our prayer...

It’s not the meaning but the music, antiquity, repetition, and imagery. They’re sensual just as the wine and the bread are sensual, just as a woman’s body is sensual. For decades, I thought it was women whose holy waters could protect me, and it was only the passing of many decades that enabled me to see that beauty can’t save its possessor much less me, this despite my years of work on ambulances and in funeral homes.

For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father.

I know that Jesus can’t heal me, or save me, or even find me a parking place because Jesus isn’t there; Jesus isn’t anywhere. But while other atheists feel bored or offended by the very mention of Jesus, I get high saying the ancient prayers .

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis…

I need them now just as I needed them during my childhood before I even knew they existed, going as I did to a church that believed them to be the idolatrous creation of Satan. Year in an year out, I heard preachers say that people who attend mass will burn in eternal hell, and when I got home, I would hide under my bed because I was afraid that the Lord would return to earth that very afternoon and send me to hell. I built my first altar when I was eleven, decorating it with rocks and wisteria. I didn’t even know it was an altar, just that it seemed more holy to me than the plainness of my real church.

Ritual makes me flower like water makes a plant flower, and I wither in the presence of dogma like a flower before a dry wind, but I am less than a “white-washed sepulcher.” Like my Minnesota friend, I really just want to get high on religion, and I do get high at times, only to, at other times, think that it is just all too stupid, that my feelings about it are too bizarre, and that I have no right to take part in anything related to it. 

Seeing Brent

I looked forward to a long Saturday afternoon of mass, class, and a talk with (Father) Brent, so I took 30 mgs of oxycodone and 900 mgs of Neurontin in the hope that I could quiet the pain enough to sleep. The pain persisted, but hallucinations of blossoming bouquets, flowery kimonos, and pullulating patterns of colors, provided a pleasant distraction. It is usually true that the more I want to sleep, the less I am able to sleep.

During our talk, three needy men came in separately. One asked Brent to jump-start his motorcycle battery, and the others consulted briefly, but I didn’t listen to what they said. I had taken enough food—for Brent and me—to feed several people, so I invited each of the men to eat with us, and one did. Along with caring for his 200-300 person congregation, Brent works with prisoners, Occupy Eugene, homeless campers, and maybe others (I learn new things about him all the time). Our talk went as well as expected, the following being some of the highlights in my own words and to the best of my understanding.

Brent opened by saying that my passion for religion is rare even among churchgoers, and that those who have it usually go to seminary.

I said that I didn’t know what to do with the questions that come up for me in catechism class because it seems inappropriate to ask for answers that I know don’t exist, but I feel untrue to myself if I remain silent. Besides, my feelings are sometimes too intense for me to trust myself to share them appropriately. He said he has no “conclusive answers,” about religion, and he made no suggestions about the class beyond saying that he wants me in it.

Brent regards Christianity and other religions as human attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible and express the inexpressible. His idea of a good church is a place where people share interests rather than answers.

He has never had what people refer to as a “personal experience of God,” and intercessory prayer makes no sense to him except as a morale builder, but after a few years in a Massachusetts’ monastery, he came to believe that those who devote their lives to prayer make the world a better place if only by virtue of the fact that other people are encouraged by their devotion.

I said that one my biggest problems with Christianity has always been that Jesus’ talk of loving your neighbor as yourself sets too high a standard, that I come nowhere near that standard, and that I have no plans to even attempt to come near it. Brent said that he hasn’t been terribly successful in that regard either, but he holds to the thought that nothing need be accomplished overnight.

By the time he went to seminary, Brent had been an officer in the Marine Corps and worked in big business. He wasn’t even a Christian when he experienced a desire to go to seminary, but he has gradually become what he does. What he does is to be a paid Christian, but he gives a lot more to the job than his salary covers. Whether he’s talking to one person or 200 people, Brent’s passion for the priesthood is evident.

He said that he wants to do everything he can to make me feel welcome at Resurrection, and then it was time for class. I participated circumspectly in a discussion of the creeds and the nature of the Trinity, and then we went to high mass. I’ve seen the sanctuary go from unpleasantly hot to unpleasingly cold during the months I’ve been at Resurrection, but yesterday was the first time that Brent asked me to pass inside the altar rail and read aloud from the Bible. I would have laughed if the reading had contained the verse about the fool saying in his heart that there is no God, but it didn’t. I loved being asked to read, though, and I loved everything else too.