Getting Covered in California

It’s been nearly four years since I fought on the front lines of the health care reform battle, eventually resulting in the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). But that feels like a lifetime ago, as the landmark policy now serves as a punchline.

Despite a flawed rollout, I still believe it was all worth it—hours, days and months spent standing on corners, handing out flyers, hosting forums, talking until I lost my voice, and sparring with yellow-toothed Tea Party “patriots,” whose best argument against improving health care while saving taxpayers millions of dollars was to call me a “socialist.” After the laugh track fades away, and the policy has a chance to work, it’s going to be a game changer. And I can now speak from personal experience.

Until this week, I was among the millions of Americans without health insurance. For most of my life, I had been covered through my parents or my employer. After launching my own consulting practice early last year, I was forced to make a choice: pay more than $300 a month for private insurance or save that money for food, gas, and other priorities—and hope to avoid a catastrophic illness in the meantime.

As a young and relatively healthy person, this was not a difficult decision. And anyone who runs their own business knows the slim margin between success and failure. So I went without insurance. But every time I got sick, every time I felt a twinge in my bum knee, every time I felt a spike in my heart rate, I wondered if I would regret that decision.

The light at the end of the tunnel was the ACA, which took effect in the fall. Rather than break the bank, I resolved to wait and see what my government could do for me.

Like a lot of us, I’m a procrastinator at heart, so I let the first two months of enrollment pass without getting serious. I watched HealthCare.gov go through fits and starts while state exchanges like Covered California lived up to our President’s promise: making health care decisions easy, fast and affordable. I sat on the sidelines while late night talk show hosts made a joke out of the most significant piece of legislation to come out of Washington in 50 years. And on Sunday, just days after my 36th birthday, I finally clicked through to CoveredCA.com and spent exactly 90 minutes applying for my first private insurance program.

I’ve spent more time deciding between different pairs of shoes.

The process was smooth and intuitive. It gave me a clear picture of the options at my disposal. It took the mystery out of jargon like deductibles, copays and “coinsurance.” It gave me a sense of empowerment. And at the end of the process, I had exactly what I needed—peace of mind.

I found that I qualified for a tax credit of almost $200 a month, which helped me afford a premium rate that saves me from a high deductible and lets me visit my personal care physician for $40. I also have access to free preventative care like screenings and physicals, of which I’m more likely to take advantage now that I have insurance.

In the end, the toughest decision I faced was whether to go with a public or private plan. But again, that wasn’t much of a choice. I’m one of those crazy fools who believes in government, who trusts our public servants and employees. And now, I’m the happy owner of insurance through the Valley Health Plan.

Which means I should live to see the day when the real punchline of the ACA turns out to be the people who mocked and criticized it before it had a chance to thrive.

Peter Allen is an independent political and communications consultant and a proud native of San José. You can follow him on Twitter at @pjallen2. Open enrollment for health care through the public exchange ends March 31. Visit http://www.coveredca.com to learn more.

Peter Allen was born and raised in San Jose and lives in Willow Glen. He is a board member of the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association and vice chair of the city of San Jose Arts Commission. Follow him on Twitter at @pjallen2.

6 Comments

  1. Maybe you should have thought about that before you started your own firm. Was it someone else’s fault you suddenly couldn’t afford health insurance? Sounds like poor planning to me. Although I doubt this is the case with everyone, it seems like you wanted everyone else to pay a little more so you could indulge your desires and pay a little less.

  2. Everyone that qualifies for public assistance loves Obamacare.

    In my particular case, my current insurance was cancelled and will only run until the end of the year.  That insurance used to cost me $744/month.  My new insurance through Covered CA is going to cost me $1200/month.

    I’m looking at this as yet another tax.  The crappy service is an extra bonus.

  3. I’m so happy for you Mr. Allen. You and your ilk are obviously very proud of the colossal scam you’ve managed to pull over on the rest of us. What many of us work for, honestly earn, and pay for out of our own pockets, you’ve cleverly had handed to you by simply manipulating the political process. So now I not only get to continue, as a responsible adult, to fully buy my own health insurance but also to pay for yours too. 
    I’ll bet if you were truly honest for a moment, you’d admit that you really could have afforded health insurance all these years- you just didn’t choose to. Sending Kaiser a sizeable check every month has never been easy for me and my family. Buying insurance often feels like throwing money down the rat hole. But we’ve done it, partly because we did not want to run the risk of burdening others should something happen. But burdening others is precisely the way the new whiner class gets the things they want in this brave new world you and your Messiah have created.
    Merry Christmas. And thanks for the lump of coal.

  4. I have no idea how anyone could justify these insurance rates as “affordable”. When I was between jobs almost 10 years ago and I didn’t have health care through my employer I purchased my own plan for around $120/mo. Sure it had a $1000 deductible, but compared to an INSANE $440/mo bottom of the barrel plan now, I would beg for that old plan back. I’m sure when my employer decides to can my health insurance and send me to the “exchange” so they can save some money I’ll be looking forward to forking out a pretty penny.

    • Indeed. Josh, is the story regarding the city’s outright refusal to sit down at the bargaining table prior to the push for Measure B on its way soon? That, along with a tally of Measure B’s overall cost to the taxpayers would go well with a story regarding the recent city audit SJI didn’t cover..

      You know.. That one about the skyrocketing crime rate and the inability of the police department to respond to just about anything that’s not priority 1? Correlation with the (forewarned) effects of Measure B? It all spells debacle.