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My Obamacare, the good, the bad and the ugly

First off, I never expected I would want, need, or even consider being on the Affordable Health Care Plan. I didn’t particularly care one way or other because it seemed like it was only for people who were lazy and couldn’t find a job, or for people who never had insurance ever before and needed it.

My family would be devastated if I didn't sign up for Obamacare in April.
Mike Szymanski, Studio City Community Activism Examiner

Secondly, I have Multiple Sclerosis. I was diagnosed in 2000 while I was on Kaiser Permanente Health Maintenance Organization, and I have been paying on my own for insurance through that plan for nearly 30 years. Even while gainfully employed, I was double-insured with my work paying for insurance (and taking a portion out of my paycheck) as well as paying out-of-pocket for my own insurance.

I was told more than once by Kaiser officials that were I to drop my own private insurance payment plan and then lose my job, they would never put me back on the Kaiser program—solely because I have MS.

One searing memory I have from a Member Services rep said, “Honey, we’re waiting for you to miss a payment because we’d never take you back.” She was trying to joke, but I wasn’t laughing.

My diagnosis would prevent me from ever having my own insurance ever again, anywhere. So, for a few decades I was double-insuring and my monthly premiums were usually more than $1,000 (and that's just for me). To me, that was a deal. My MS medications were often $250 a bottle or more. My weekly injections were more than $800 each, and now my monthly infusions could cost an average person more than $10,000 if they had to pay it on their own.

I was thankful for any kind of insurance, I had a job, and I figured I was getting a good deal.

Then, in October, I lost my job at Studio City Patch when AOL unceremoniously booted out more than 500 employees all at once. I thought I’d land something pretty quickly, but it turns out that it’s getting harder and harder to find someone to pay for you to write anymore. I still don’t have a fulltime job.

And, my insurance premium was going up $80 a month and is now up to $628 a month.

I was suddenly considering Obamacare for the first time. The trouble is, when I began checking into it, no one could tell me if the infusion medication (which is the only medication that is now working for me) for my MS would be covered by Kaiser under that program. I was getting mixed messages from every person I talked to.

At the same time, my mother who is in a local nursing home was told that because of Obamacare, they would no longer be able to use her Kaiser Insurance. She has both Medi-cal and Medicare, but now her doctor that was visiting her from Kaiser was no longer covered.

I called Kaiser, and eventually got to a high-level administrator, who was willing to deal with all my issues and concerns, but even he was confused.

It turns out that the local nursing home, under new management, was changing some policies. It turns out that whenever any business or health service has a change of policies or has an increase in costs, they take the easy way and turn to: “blame Obamacare.”

My mom was going to change to a different health insurance, but just before she did, Kaiser dealt with her through some serious touch-and-go emergencies and she is now stable.

As for me, the executive (whom I never said I’d ever quote, so I’ll keep him anonymous) told me, “We cannot change your medications because you transfer to the Affordable Health Care program, and we will not do that, so your infusions will be covered.” That was the assurance I needed.

Then, I prepared to deal with the frustrating hours-long wait to enroll online. On a whim, I had gone to Covered California on the first day it was available online to see if the site was down like all the media were saying. It wasn’t.

When I finally needed to enroll, I did it in about 15 minutes. It was easier than enrolling for car insurance, the site didn’t crash, and it was far simpler than applying for unemployment (which I also have had to do).

When I needed to call the Covered California folk with a question, I got through in one phone call. Is that possible? I couldn’t believe it.

Yes, I was covered, and I now will be paying $224 less a month than I was paying on my own before Obamacare. They couldn’t kick me off because I have MS, and they are covering all the medications I’ve been on before.

With that extra $224 I can afford to keep going to my chiropractor, who helps with my MS, and I can pay for the supplements that aren’t covered by Kaiser.

Ironically, as soon as I paid my first Obamacare bill, I was diagnosed with kidney and bladder stones. I was told I would need two surgeries, and soon.

I am now writing this as I am recovering from surgery, and while I am having my MS infusion which takes about five hours once a month.

I resent that I have been told by the right-wing that Obamacare doesn’t work. I am hurt that the Republicans have made me believe that if I’m on Obamacare then I’m lazy, unmotivated loser, and a “user” of the public dole. I bought into the fear of Obamacare by media reports, and believed that it was going to be glitchy, difficult and confusing to use. None of that was my experience.

In fact, it was the confusion that was caused by Republicans—can you believe that in some states it’s against the law to even help someone sign up?—that created the biggest obstacles for me.

Thankfully, I live in a state where we have a governor who has not made it more difficult to get help with health insurance. Fortunately, Covered California seems to have its act together.

I wasn’t going to talk about my personal situation because it’s well, too personal. But, I feel like there doesn’t seem to be many good stories about people signing up for Obamacare, and mine has been amazingly positive.

On top of that, my nephew is about to graduate from high school and got a scholarship to attend UCLA. He can stay on his mother’s health insurance plan through his college years, again thanks to the Affordable Health Care plan that the Republicans still continue to hope to disassemble.

(PS, I just got my bill from Kaiser for my latest surgeries: $21,294.72. My payment due? $0. How does anyone do it without health insurance?)

I fully expect to be back in the work force again, and be a productive member of my community again. In the meantime, I’ve been through a few surgeries, cost-prohibitive treatments and emergency hospitalizations in the past month that would have bankrupted me and my family had I not had Obamacare.

Thank you, President Obama. I owe you my continued health.

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