We appreciated our public health plan. We finally had access to doctors, prescriptions and preventive procedures for the first time in years and could pay down debt we owed for prior medical expenses. But MinnesotaCare worked clandestinely, sending sporadic letters with vague directives, referring to functionless ID cards, invoices that didn’t add up. After a few months we stopped receiving invoices at all. We tried mailing payments anyway but found they applied them to the wrong account. Then, for a year, we heard nothing. No premiums, no correspondence, nada.
I called often but the result was always the same: “We’re experiencing a high rate of calls. Please call again later.” Click.
I was foiled online as well, my MNsure account disabled by the usual cyberscape bouncer, System Administrator. On rare occasions I pierced the cones of silence that hung over their help desks. “Wait! I’m here!” I croaked. My throat dusty, forming words like a Bedouin straggling in from the Sahara. “I have copies of checks … Tax info …”
“They don’t match our records,” said the voice.
“How can you have records if you don’t send us invoices?”
“Mail in your payments anyway, without the invoice,” said the voice.
“I tried that, you guys applied them to the wrong account.”
“Mail them anyway.”
“You want me to mail money blindly, with no paperwork, to an agency I can’t call or contact?”
“Just put your ID number on the check,” said the voice.
“You mean this one?” I read the number.
“That’s not your number.”
“That’s my ID number from the last invoice you sent me. It says right here: ID number.”
“Your correct number is on your ID card,” said the voice.
“You never sent me an ID card.”
“Yes, we did.”
“Is this what you want to argue about? Why don’t you just tell me the number?”
She read me the number.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “If I don’t have an invoice, I can’t send you money. It’s not wise. One day you’ll say I never sent anything. Then you’ll drop me for not paying my premiums.”
“You’re already not paying premiums.”
“I can’t pay the premiums if you don’t send me an invoice.”
“Well, I can’t help you,” said the voice. “Your best bet is to contact your legislator.”
At that point, the cones of silence snapped down for good.
So, I spoke with a smart young woman from Gov. Mark Dayton’s office, who pledged to call MinnesotaCare herself. Soon, I was assigned a special agent. Finally, after an eight-month slog through the MinnesotaCare underworld, the agent found that, indeed, they had overbilled us for a whopping $18. Which they kept.
But still no invoices.
Fade in, fade out, it’s Christmas Eve. A letter arrives. We have been jettisoned from MinnesotaCare ranks, taking effect in four business days. We were late with paperwork, they said. Secretly, I suspect that MinnesotaCare winnows the rolls on purpose. Driving us to MNsure like nervous sheep, raising MNsure enrollment rates and tax revenue. Or maybe they do it out of sheer dysfunction? Leaving us sheep four days to find a shepherd because they fear for their jobs.
I’m for the Affordable Care Act — in fact MinnesotaCare’s dysfunction suggests we didn’t push far enough. But that doesn’t mean MinnesotaCare gets to drive Obamacare around like a bus with the doors welded shut. Toss it all out the window, say the Republicans. Let the sheep eat grassy tax breaks which probably won’t add up. And in the program’s present state, that’ll be exactly what happens.
I say get someone with a blowtorch and cut through the doors. Open it up like a rusty submarine. Expose it to light, burn some sage, wave a crucifix. Anything but limp it along.
In the meantime, my letter from MinnesotaCare said I should call their help desk. Throw elbows with the rest of the rabble. So that’s what I did, three times a day, the same message playing over and over again, “Call again later.” Click.
And then, in typical mysterious fashion, another letter arrives. “Your health plan has been restored,” it says.
What’s in the coffee over there?
Steve Stratman is a writer in Minneapolis.