The Health Care Spectator

The Faces of Obamacare

The horror stories are real and deserve to be heard.

By 3.14.14

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"This feels like a punishment," Julie Birch says, sitting down in her New Mexico home after bandaging her twelve-year-old’s bleeding leg. "The ones doing the right thing got penalized."

Birch is the mother of two athletic sons and the wife of a self-employed restaurant designer and builder. As a stay-at-home mother, the health of her family is her first priority – so health insurance was a given. Birch used to pay a $344 premium with a $1,500 deductible for her family of four’s policy.

That is, before Obamacare.

President Obama promised hundreds of typical middle-class Americans like Birch that the Affordable Care Act wouldn’t bar them from seeing their doctors or kick them off their insurance plans. They were already insured, they created jobs, and worked hard to live the American dream. This was supposed to help "the least of these" without harming "the better offs."

Paul Krugman keeps daring the conservative right to find a real Obamacare victim story – one that couldn’t be debunked by a little extra sleuthing. Well, Paul, here are three.  

Last June, Birch received a letter from Lovelace Insurance warning her that her coverage would be terminated. However, it told her to wait for more information before she did anything. The months rolled past and no phone call came. She paid her premium in December, assuming everything was sorted out. However, on January 4, 2014, she was told her insurance was cancelled and she would have to log onto the New Mexico healthcare exchange. So she did.

After spending two hours filling personal information into the ever-growing ACA database, the system stopped her from enrolling her children. It needed to determine if her sons were eligible for Medicaid. The error message promised that a state representative would contact her, but no one has. When she tried to call, the wait was 45 minutes.

"I have a twelve- and five-year-old who play sports. They need a doctor," Birch said.

Birch wasn’t eligible for the marketplace’s Platinum plan, but the next best thing – the Gold plan – offered her comparable care for $519.23 a month with a $3,000 deductible—an increase of over $175 a month with no coverage for her children caught in Medicaid limbo.

Her frustration escalated not because the cost increased and her children were uninsured, but because none of the plans let her keep her primary care or orthopedic doctors.

"This is just downright unacceptable," Birch said. "You develop relationships [with doctors] for a reason."

At this point, Birch said she is hoping for another delay from Obama’s ever-changing mind, so she is holding off on buying insurance. If nothing alters, she might go back to work at the local public school and get on a government plan there.

For Jackie Fowler, Obama was correct: She got to keep her plan and her doctors. But that comfort costs a hefty fee. As predicted by the CMS report released last month and our own David Hogberg, she and her seven other employees are eight of the 11 million people whose premiums will increase because of Obamacare.

For the past twenty-five years, she and her husband have run a small office furniture business in South Carolina. Although they have supported libertarian candidates in the past, they have not been paid off by the Koch brothers for their testimony.

Last year, they paid $24,300 for their institutional group healthcare plan. Now they will have to pay $55,632 in 2014. Non-smokers in their mid-fifties and good health, she and her husband must dole out $2,000 a month for their personal coverage – double what they paid last year.

Fowler and her single fellow female employee had no need for maternity care, so they used to opt out of the coverage. Now, however, even the men in the office must be covered for their next birth.

"I don’t know what we are going to do," Fowler said, citing concern for the company’s longevity.  

When asked if they will cancel their group plan and send their employees to the marketplace, Fowler said the options on the website are very limited. Although there are some plans which offer comparable care, "none of [their] doctors or their affiliate hospital are in the provider network." She is forced to choose between her doctor and an enormous insurance bill.

"I don’t know where they get the ‘affordable.’ This is anything but affordable," Fowler said. "We should be saving for retirement, not paying for insurance."

Mike Doherty of Florida is between jobs now, but said the company he was with for seven years took a hit from Obamacare. His policy barely changed in cost and coverage for years, that is, until the ACA roll-out. Although the 15 percent premium and copay increase was frustrating, it was their slashed coverage that horrified him.

"We had amazing prenatal and maternity care. All in all, including pregnancy and delivery, with all the deductibles, copays, coinsurance on both mom and baby, we paid approximately $1,500," Doherty said, referring to his first child’s birth. Come the second child, they paid the same amount. However, with the passing of the ACA, their hospital fees soared to $5,000 with the birth of their third child.

Even with the requirement that all policies cover maternity care, Doherty’s family is still paying off the bills nine months later.

"When bringing a child into the world is more than three times more expensive than it was two years ago, it makes me wonder why they included the word ‘affordable’ in the ACA," Doherty said.

These are the faces of Obamacare – people whose lives have been disrupted by the White House’s broken promises. They couldn’t keep their plans. They couldn’t keep their doctors. They couldn’t even have children without racking up burdensome bills. The life-altering power of this bureaucratic labyrinth has been laid bare.

And they aren’t the only ones.

"The lady at Lovelace Insurance said my call was like a thousand other calls she received before me," Birch added. "Why are we getting punished?"

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About the Author

Natalie deMacedo is a student at Hillsdale College where she is studying English and Journalism. As part of Hillsdale's Dow Journalism Program, she works as a staff reporter and assistant editor for her school paper, the Collegian. She also interned at the Old Colony Memorial in Plymouth, Mass. - her hometown.