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Obamacare, Uninsurance Benefits, and other Government Subsidies: What It’s Like

September 17th, 2014

Two days ago the HuffingtonPost had an article titled 360,000 Obamacare Enrollees At Risk Of Losing Subsidies

I think this is an interesting and historic part of U.S. history, and am interested in seeing Obamacare play out.  I was wondering why so many enrollees would get what would feel like a bait-and-switch on their government sponsored health insurance… was it a mistake in the (almost) billion dollar software failure?  Was it really a bait-and-switch?  Was it so unsustainable that it couldn’t even work for a year?

Apparently, none of those.  Jeffrey Young, the HuffPo blogger, reported on something I am way too familiar with, because of the time I collected Unemployment Insurance.  Back in 2006, after I had lost my job, I managed to swallow my pride (which was much harder than I thought it would be) and crawl humbly into the government building where I would file an uninsurance claim.

So much work to get a few hundred bucks a week.  But it was my safety net.  It would ease some of the scariness of having no other income from any other source.  It could help me make it a few more weeks as I was on a serious hunt for the job that could sustain my family and pay my bills.  I didn’t want it, but I thought I needed it.

When you first walk into the building, you are ashamed, embarrassed, and think “I don’t belong here.”  Other people belonged there, but I didn’t.  I had worked too hard in school, and in my jobs, to be in the unemployment line.

It wasn’t like in the movies: big lines, no one speaks English, hustle-and-bustle and the workers don’t care about you.  There was hardly anyone around. I remember going into a room, filling out paperwork, and having a chat with one of the employees.  I was embarrassed (did I mention that already) and I felt they were probing and condescending.  I don’t mean that I demand respect from everyone, but they way they treated me, well, I felt like a zero and they, with their governemt job and pension, and trying to sniff out the welfare abusers, were accusing me of sucking.

Maybe it was just me.

Over the next few weeks I got accustomed to calling into the automatic system to declare I was diligently doing a job search.  I think all I had to claim, by pressing 1 or 2 or 3 on the keypad, was that I had made contact with “two new employers” in that last week.  Maybe there was more I was supposed to do as a job seeker, but it wasn’t rigorous at all.  It was actually quite wimpy. I easily met the requirements, all the while wondering why they didn’t make the requirements a bit harder.  The concept was that we were supposed to work for this money, but just “making contact” with two new companies each week was not much work.  The “contact” didn’t even have to be substantial. I could walk into a company, say hi to the front desk person, ask for a job application, and walk out.  That’s a “contact,” as far as I was told.

Around this time, I started working on JibberJobber.  There was a potential for income… during my job search.  This meant that my income would change, and then I would have to report it, weekly, to the Unemployment people.  This is where it really started to feel weird.  If I made $10 from an upgrade one month, how would that affect my check?  As I was becoming “self-employed” it seemed their demeanor changed.  Even though I was making zero dollars, I was self-employed… this meant that I shouldn’t get unemployment…

There was a dark cloud hanging over this entrepreneurial endeavor the entire time.

In Young’s article he says:

“Federal authorities will begin contacting 279,000 households, representing 363,000 individuals, on Monday to urge them to provide additional information about how much money they make because the figures submitted in their Obamacare subsidies applications don’t match federal tax records…”

I’m all for finding the crooks and the frauds… but I’m not convinced that almost 300k households are defrauding the government.  But I have a feeling that those conversations aren’t going to go very pleasantly.  They “federal authorities” are more likely to go in like the Gestapo, with intimidation and a lot of disbelief.  They were, after all, going to listen to a bunch of liars, and they better be ready to cut them off at the knees.

Here’s where it gets a little scary, for the honest people who either made honest mistakes (with our tax code, it’s easy to make mistakes, even for accountants who specialize in taxes):

“Consumers who do not contact health insurance exchange authorities to verify the accuracy of their income or to offer up-to-date information risk seeing their tax credits reduced beginning next month…”

Here’s were it gets VERY scary:

“These people may also have to repay the government if they received more subsidies than their income should have allowed.”

So there is a chance you might lose this great promise of health insurance, but worse, that you’ll have to pay the subsidy back?

This was the same threat at the unemployment office. I’m not saying that we should all get a sympathy pass.  But the threat of the government coming back to me weeks, months, maybe years later, and saying “we think you lied about something – here’s an invoice you have to pay,” was really scary.

Combine that with the attitude of the workers in the office, which was one of always accusing you of lying or defrauding the good old US of A, or having compassion or customer service of  negative ten on a scale of one to ten, and we decided it was simply time to opt out.

No, we don’t want to give you more information about us than we need.  I’m slightly distrustful about what information you collected in the first place.

No, you no longer need to know every step I’m making, especially when it has nothing to do with a real and effective job search.

No, the few hundred bucks I get is not that important to me anymore.

Living under a Hitler-like, accusatory, Gestapo-at-the-door, was just not worth it.  It became scary.  There was absolutely no peace of mind, or sense of help from the government.  The sense was “we will find you doing something wrong, and we OWN YOU!”

I know the programs are in place for a reason (especially Obamacare, which is trying to fix a very messed up insurance industry), and I’m thankful they are there, but the way they are implemented is enough to drive people out.

Maybe that is the whole point.

 

 

3 Comments »

3 responses to “Obamacare, Uninsurance Benefits, and other Government Subsidies: What It’s Like”

  1. Pat Frame says:

    Wow, not what I expected on this blog. Of course, goodness knows last time I knew anyone who applied for UC in person rather than online, even as I remember the kind people who helped me decades ago pre-internet when I had to go in person to an office deep in dangerous public housing area. But agree that many big operations – cable and phone companies come to mind, credit card issuers too plus governments – need better customer service programs and people. And if you read the entire article mentioned, these terrible people have already cleared 3x as many as still to go…

  2. Jason Alba says:

    Yeah, just sharing my own experience here Pat. Every once in a while I get to raw experiences from my job search…

  3. Jason Alba says:

    Here’s a comment from my local newspaper on an article that had to do with workers comp fraud… the comment is by “?”: http://www.ksl.com/index.php?nid=148&sid=31608360&comments=true

    In case they take this comment down or something, the comment is:

    i recently came off workers comp. and let me tell you it is not a free ride. i received less than half of my wages because apparently utah has a cap on it. not to mention all of the surgeries, physical therapy, dr. appointments, and PAIN. i was counting down the days till i got released to go back to work. and the insurance adjusters are not pleasant people to work with either. it is their job to give you as little money as possible and they are very good at it. i dont understand why anyone would want to deal with workers comp a minute longer than they have to.