The flaw in Obamacare
There's good news and bad news about Obamacare.
The good news is approximately 8 million Americans have signed up for health care, and the national uninsured rate is dropping. The bad news is an estimated 5 million "working poor" Americans can't get insurance because they're considered too poor. Others can get stuck in bureaucracy.
Meet a San Diego friend who I'll call Tim Parker. In early 2013, he suddenly had problems walking up a little hill from his place of residence to a bus stop. As the year progressed, he found he couldn't walk far because his legs felt heavy and would explode. He was in enormous pain. He was a heavy smoker.
Parker's job doesn't pay much, and on top of what little he makes, he pays child support. By spring 2013, he desperately sought insurance, but insurance agents said treating his pre-existing condition was out and could be a disqualifier. His pain and loss of leg mobility worsened. He has no car and had to arrange for friends to drive him to and from work because if he walked to the bus stop, he'd have to stop frequently -- and would be in excruciating pain.
A friend referred Parker to a top chiropractor who feared something grave, such as Lou Gehrig's disease. Tests showed nothing. He went uninsured to an emergency room, which did a limited number of tests. They told him it probably was smoking related, wrote down a specialist's name, and sent him home within hours. He was told to sign up for Medi-Cal. He put in the paperwork and got no response.
Fast forward to the Obamacare sign up deadline. Parker got errors on the Obamacare website, and was only able to complete part of an application on Covered California before the site froze up. I personally called the offices of California's two Democratic senators on his behalf and told them his condition was worsening and he needed to get health insurance ASAP. Each office took information and asked him to send them an email. One helped him get his application in to Covered California -- which after a few weeks sent him a letter saying he didn't qualify and they'd refer his case to Medi-Cal. He couldn't get confirmation from Medi-Cal that his papers were received.
Parker's legs were getting worse. He was getting thin and gaunt. I made calls back to each senator's office, and it was clear they felt their job was done. One referred me to Parker's Republican state senator's office, which said they couldn't help him -- and referred him to an advocate. The advocates referred him to Medi-Cal. He left a phone message for Medi-Cal but got no answer. The California governor's office told him to fill out a constituent request form on the website, which could take a month or more to be taken up due to the backlog.
Parker continued to work and started having leg muscle spasms. One day, his legs finally gave out, causing him to fall. He briefly lost his vision and barely could lift one leg. Parker's wife finally took him to a different hospital's emergency room this month, where doctors discovered significant smoking damage: gravely clogged arteries, shockingly high blood pressure and a big blood clot near his hip. The hospital got emergency Medi-Cal coverage and did significant surgery. They told him he had been within a hair of having his leg amputated.
So, in the end, Parker got temporary Medi-Cal coverage through the back door by having to go uninsured (and gravely ill) to the emergency room -- despite a year of desperately trying to get insurance. Not one elected official's office had followed up to make sure his case totally was resolved. They all passed the buck.
So I've made a decision: I'll pass on ever voting for these specific politicians from both parties. And I'll screen out talk about how anyone who needs health insurance now can get it if they sign up -- because Obamacare didn't help Tim Parker one iota.
How many other Tim Parkers are out there?
And how many died while fruitlessly trying to get insurance -- or trying to find a politician's office that actually cared?
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas
and in the United States.