I’m convinced that someday I will have health insurance. It’s like everything else, right? If you work hard enough and long enough, if you don’t knuckle under to the petty challenges, you’ll be rewarded. I believe that soon, if I stick to it, I’ll be able to write a check for hundreds of dollars and an insurer will agree to take it. Call me crazy. I don’t care.
I started trying to buy health insurance via MNsure on Oct. 3. Things didn’t work out at first. A coding error on the website wouldn’t allow me to enter non-wage income. I couldn’t complete the form. No worries. These things happen. I figured I could send them a note about that little glitch, a coder would fix things up and I’d finish the application in a few weeks.
So a couple weeks later I tried again. Same problem. Hmm. Well, it’s a massive undertaking, designing a complex piece of multi-vendor software that integrates information from various insurers and government agencies. I sent another note to the help desk and decided to wait things out a while longer.
I waited, tried again, waited, tried again. Waited some more. Tried again. In between I wrote more notes to the help desk. Seven in all. I got a reply to one of them. Not really helpful, but it was gratifying to have someone acknowledge the existence of a would-be customer.
I wrote a pair of letters to Gov. Mark Dayton, thinking that as the state’s CEO he might be interested in knowing how things were going down in the boiler room. The governor’s people called back. We had a good chat. I tried to apply again. The same software error kept me locked out.
By now the clock was ticking down on the Dec. 31 sign-up deadline. I dialed up the MNsure call center, wondering if I could file a paper application since it seemed conceivable that the software problems would not be fixed.
A few other people had that same idea about calling. I spent slightly more than five hours on the phone, mostly waiting. I was told, finally, that I couldn’t file a paper application. I did get some advice on busting through the website barriers. It was wrong, but by then my expectations weren’t especially high.
On Dec. 30, I got a big idea. I would forget about my initial application and start a new one in my wife’s name. Lucky for me to be married! This worked! I was able to sign our family up for health insurance. And after only three months of persistent effort. A lot of things take longer. Say, for example, the siege of Stalingrad.
The application form asked whether I wanted to pay via MNsure or be billed by Blue Cross. I was a little gun-shy about MNsure’s ability to complete a complicated task, such as sending me a bill. I decided to go with being billed by Blue Cross.
A lot of people will tell you that you’re a fool to be hopeful in this world, but that’s not how I see it.
To hear the Blue Cross reps tell it now — I’ve talked to a few of them recently — MNsure never let them know that I wanted to get a bill from Blue Cross. While I was waiting for a bill, Blue Cross was waiting for payment. When it was not forthcoming, they put me into a default category, under which I might be covered effective May 1.
I thought that my family had health insurance. How stupid. In fact, I had no coverage at all. The folks at Blue Cross said that if I paid via credit card that moment, I could be covered in about three weeks, starting March 1.
Thinking that, well, things happen — I could have a heart attack, my kid could be hit by a bus, a bank vault could drop on my wife’s head — I mentioned that I would prefer to have insurance this very minute, the way I did before I signed up for health insurance via MNsure. In that case, said the understanding fellow at Blue Cross, I could always appeal. But needless to say, they had their policies and regulations …
Of course. My own policy has always been to have health insurance, because I fear that in a medical crisis I will be driven to financial ruin. But somebody’s policy had to give. In a word, mine.
I know there are people who contend that MNsure is a plot devised by evil geniuses to take away our freedom. I’m not one of them. I was, however, discouraged recently to read that the governor didn’t take MNsure governance to be on his docket. That, he said, was the business of the MNsure board. Never mind that he appointed the board. On the other hand, I take it as a positive note that one of the MNsure directors, General Mills VP Tom Forsythe, said he wished that the board had been paying more attention all along.
Don’t we all.
My grandfather went to his grave insisting that someday Catholics would be allowed to eat meat on Friday. Too bad for him he didn’t live to see that happen. I am headed for my grave saying that someday, after we have explored all other conceivable options, we will decide that every citizen has a right to basic health care.
We’ll say you pay for it when you pay your taxes. There won’t be a question of whether you’re covered or not. You won’t be forced to make your way through an application maze. Your health care won’t depend on your employment or lack thereof.
It didn’t happen this year. It probably won’t happen in this decade. But it will happen. Because all the other jury-rigged non-solutions, as we are currently busy demonstrating, are too ridiculous to last.
Anthony Schmitz is a writer in St. Paul.