With Enrollment Deadline Looming, Sebelius Listens to Bloggers' Healthcare Stories

With Enrollment Deadline Looming, Sebelius Listens to Bloggers' Healthcare Stories

With the deadline for open enrollment for healthcare coverage looming on March 31, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius took the time today to speak with a small group of bloggers with questions to ask—and compelling stories to tell—about health insurance.

Kathleen Sebelius talks to bloggers (Image: © James Berglie/ZUMAPRESS.com)Kathleen Sebelius talks to bloggers (Image: © James Berglie/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Sebelius asked women in social media to for their help spreading the word to family, friends, fellow bloggers—even our cab drivers—to get people to healthcare.gov before the March 31 deadline.

She stressed the importance of bringing this conversation up now, both in person and on social media. "Young people don’t necessarily trust public officials and news media; they're not getting info from talking heads anymore. Kids do trust their parents about some things and this is one of them. And parents trust other parents. … You and your readers can be important, trusted voices for neighbors and colleagues, even cab drivers" (most of whom, she noted, don't have health insurance).

"There's still time to sign up—but the clock is ticking. We need people to come to the website each and every day between now and March 31 … so they don't wake up on April 1 feeling like a fool, and having to wait a whole year before they can get healthcare coverage."

Sebelius was frank about the launch of the enrollment site. "Healthcare.gov had a very rocky start, I will be the first to admit that. But starting in December, it's been a different user experience. "

And she told her own story—of her two sons, now both in their 30s. They didn't have occupations that gave them healthcare coverage after college. She said she had "resources and knowledge, and could get them both into plans because they were healthy." But her son John's best friend had a pre-existing condition. His father lamented that he'd be paying more for his son's healthcare costs than for his college education. "Those days," she said, "are over."

Then the secretary listened to two BlogHer bloggers share their own stories. Laurie White of Laurie Writes went first:

I am from the Washington D.C. area, where government jobs are the norm, and you were expected to get benefits after college. I had traditional insurance for many years as a nonprofit educator, then a professor and counselor. But then my life changed. I left my job in the spring of 2012, during a personal life crisis. I didn't understand the consequences until it happened—and I think that's common, you think it won't ever happen to you, but you just don't realize until it does. Coverage was just out of reach. I had hypertension and other medical issues. The prices were too high, and I'm not good with paperwork. And when you're in stress and having mental health concerns, that becomes easy to give up on.

I'm single and self-supporting, and I actually was concerned about my impact on my aging parents. When I started seeing Obamacare being talked about on Twitter, I thought, "How hard can it be?" And someone encouraged me, told me I needed to do it. I had a primary care physician, but I was paying $200 an office visit. So I just submitted the application and let it go. I saw there had been problems with the site launch, but I crossed my fingers.

Then I got a bill in the mail. And when I realized how much of a relief it was, how big a burden healthcare had been to me, I wept. The day I got my card in the mail—I have it sitting in front of me right now—I didn't realize how emotional it would be. I cried again, and then I texted to my parents and Instagrammed with the hashtag #thanksobama.

I'm not too proud to get a job for healthcare coverage; I've done it before, but people lose jobs so often, and there goes the coverage with it. Now as an entrepreneur, I'm able to work on building my career without panic, without worrying. I'm paying $125 per month single person for a decent PPO.

I'm a teacher, and this experience has changed how I advise my students, in terms of life decisions. And I'm going to keep talking to my friends who I know need to enroll.

Then Dresden Shumaker of Creating Motherhood told her story:

I had a "typical" women's health moment last year: Something didn't feel right; I knew something was up. I had a great relationship self-paying my primary care physician, and was getting regular checkups, but had a feeling I needed to see my gynecologist. I explained what was going on, and my doctor said, "It could be a lot of things. It could be really bad." I'm a single mom. I was listening to this list, and thinking "I can't manage this." I mean, how do you self-pay for a $6,000 exploratory ultrasound? I looked at her with obvious panic in my eyes. It was October. We talked frankly about the Affordable Care Act. She said, "I'm sorry to tell you this, but I need to say you need to get your coverage first. You should wait."

When I finally got it I was like Laurie; I also Instagrammed it. I was so proud.

Starting January, I have been getting all of my tests done, trying to sort out what's wrong with me. As a mom, if I don't have my health, what do I have? It's the number one thing I have to do. I'm a freelancer, and never had coverage options before. But now I do. I'm telling everyone on social media, "This is not just for you. This affects your entire family. What will they do if you're hit with a $6,000 bill?" I'm hopeful that more single moms in situations where they don't have coverage really think about what not having it will do to them.

Sebelius called both stories "powerful," and added three points:

Insurance policy has changed in regard to women. It's now illegal to charge women more than men for policies. The standard, she said, was 50% more before. Policies now also have to cover treatments needed by women. "It's a brand-new day for lots of women."

A lot of uninsured and eligible people qualify for help, meaning they could pay lower premiums each month. If you make less than $46,000 as an individual or $92,000 as a family of four, you qualify for financial help to lower your premiums.

Women often take care of themselves last. They may delay or defer their own care to take care of their family. People are often overdue in payment of medical bills, she noted: It's the number-one cause of bankruptcy. "Having something happen and not having security to take care of it not only harms your family, but could follow you for the rest of your life."

Finally, the secretary took some questions.

Michelle Hammons of Burgh Baby asked a question she received from a reader on Facebook: A mother recently moved to Florida and signed up for Obamacare. She loves it and says it rocks. But why can't she keep it when she's offered employer insurance?

Sebelius noted that way the law is written was an attempt to fill in the gap for people who did not have affordable coverage from their employer. However, she said, over time, the law does require employer coverage to meet certain criteria for quality and cost. You may well qualify to opt out and get into insurance marketplace if your employer doesn't meet those standards. It also has to cover certain consumer protections, so you may have options that way. Those discussions will continue over time.

Erin Kotecki Vest of Queen of Spain said that because of her lupus, she signed up through the Affordable Care Act and saved a lot of money on her expensive bills. "I'm a success story," she said. "What I'm afraid of is the other side of the aisle talking repeal. That's really scary. What is the administration doing to make sure that's not happening?"

Sebelius answered, "We have a pretty strong guarantee from the president that, while he is in office until January 2017, he would never sign anything that repeals the Affordable Care Act." And enrollment is key to making sure that a repeal doesn't happen. By the next president's term, she said, we need so many people to have benefited from the ACA and insisting to Congress that they keep their hands off it, that a repeal would never happen.

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