Low-Income Funnies, Pandemic Edition

Because I get my low-cost health insurance through Obamacare, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA), I am required to re-enroll every year.  I do this, along with every other low-income New Yorker without employer-based insurance, during the relaxing weeks just before Thanksgiving to just before Christmas.   The ACA is administered in New York State by an overwhelmed agency called the New York State of Health Marketplace.  ACA health coverage is, as we learn, an easy-come easy-go form of health insurance.

The “entitlements” our government generously extends to people of low income are precious, sometimes matters of life or death.   Oddly, such benefits can be instantly clawed back with little or no notice to those who benefit from the programs, if the poor sucker makes a simple but inexcusable mistake.  I used to see this all the time when I represented some of the poorest and most desperate New York City tenants, most of whom I was able to save from homelessness.  

A wheelchair-bound double amputee got a late notice of a “face to face” meeting she was required to attend to keep her housing voucher intact.  She was unable to schedule Access-A-Ride on one day’s notice.  I spent over a year, thirteen times in Brooklyn Housing Court, trying (and in the end succeeding) to restore her housing benefits and prevent her eviction.  The government’s attitude was that this lazy bitch should have found a way to be at that meeting if she wanted continued assistance paying her rent.

So it was for me, years later, that the New York State of Health decided that the fatal December 6 mistake in my 2020 application had gone unaddressed for long enough.  On Good Friday (I’ve had better Fridays) I was informed that my health insurance had been cancelled on March 31, 2020.  I had no notice of the cancellation until I tried to use my insurance again in April.  

From a legal point of view, it is debatable whether I had notice from NYSOH before they terminated my health insurance.   I had the scantest fig leaf of legal notice of my original oversight and what action I needed to take to correct it; two letters in the inbox of New York State of Health’s website, a place otherwise uninsured New Yorkers visit once a year when we are forced to log in to reapply.  

True I had no emails from NYSOH telling me to check the inbox on their website on pain of losing my health insurance during a pandemic (I had several emailed ads for the handy new NYSOH phone app during this time), or any notice by regular mail (as their web-posted letters claimed I’d had) but NYSOH inserted both long, detailed legal warning letters right there in my on-line inbox, on December 7 and March 11, to be used as conclusive proof of notice in the event of a lawsuit by the disgruntled former recipient of government-subsidized health insurance.

I finally learned of my easily fixable mistake, after 74 hours of life-shortening stress and anger, while talking about my legal options with an old friend from law school (an online Article 78 to challenge the arbitrary and capricious cancellation of my insurance without reason given, or notice). Once I discovered it (tip of the hat to you, Jon) it was a matter of about 20 minutes on-line to fix my December 6 omission, re-apply and have my health insurance restored effective May 1, 2020.  [1]

My December 6 omission, by the way, was failing to include proof of income I didn’t receive until several weeks later.  My insurance was, I was informed in the first of these on-line letters I didn’t see, conditional, its continuance beyond March 31 depended on me fixing this mistake before that date, and I simply, willfully, refused to comply with the part of the law I’d forgotten about this time.

If I’d had actual notice of the problem, on the date of their second notice, I could have easily updated my application, fixed the fatal problem in March and avoided any interruption in my health insurance coverage.  

You have to admit, it’s funny as plague-infected shit, in a certain sick and deadly way.  May you and your loved ones never know from such hilarity.   God bless the child that’s got his own and God bless these United Shayyyysssssh.   


[1] Fortunately I discovered what I needed to do and re-applied before April 15.  If I’d re-enrolled after the 15th, my insurance would not start until June 1.

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