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Weblog From Nowhere-Land

A Hymn To Obamacare (& Ali)

Obamacare, this is my testimony
Ali, this is my song of praise

When my family returned to the U.S. after a rocky three years in Europe, we were dead broke. And when I say broke, I mean we left every stick of furniture behind and arrived with the rudiments of life (at least for us): clothes, books, and musical instruments.

It was not as if we were refugees. After all, we were coming home. But there's an element of panicky flight anytime you leave one country in a hurry and arrive in another with negative income. Maybe the most fundamental need after securing food and shelter is securing access to medical care for your family. For me, as a husband and father, that's where my brain goes. We had no health insurance, not even one of those traveler's emergency policies, so any quantum hiccup could have thoroughly fucked us up. I got very worried, and then I remembered...

They passed a new law while we were gone. The ACA. Obamacare.

I'll now skip to the last part of the story because I want to tell you about Ali. I'll only mention that we did cover the gap for 2015, and receive generous help for 2016. With just three months left in the year, they found us a policy that covered our son for free, and even though that meant we had to take him to those clinics where people stand in line to get their teeth pulled, and no soft music plays in the waiting room, I was grateful. Not a single person I ever dealt with at healthcare.gov was ever less than intelligent, compassionate, and fully informed. Not one. And that brings me to Ali.

We learned in early fall of this year, as I suspect a lot of people did, that our insurance carrier (BCBS) was pulling out of the state marketplace. In our case, that's Tennessee. When I logged onto the ACA website at the very beginning of the open enrollment period for 2017, two days after the Apocalypse of November 8, there were only a half-dozen or so policies left for which we qualified. I quickly picked one we could afford and attempted to enroll. ERROR 2376.954. Try logging out and in again after 30 minutes. Second attempt. ERROR. Cannot obtain plan information. I was concerned, but not beside myself. A website glitch, I thought. Probably due to a traffic surge following the election of Obamacare's arch-enemy. The instinctual human fear that tomorrow might be too late. Like people running to get on the last plane out of failing banana republic. I figured the enrollment would go through the next day.

When it didn't, what Trent Reznor called "the gentle hum of anxiety," always present in me at a base level, increased in frequency and urgency. My vigilance alarms began to sound. But still, I didn't fret. I knew I could get someone competent on the phone to put the enrollment through manually. On Monday, I called, and as always, someone was on the line within five minutes. But even she could not get the application through, and I could tell that it rattled her just a little. She counseled me to login again the next day, and told me to call right away if it did not.

On Tuesday, against the background of Trump's baptism of the alt-right via Steve Bannon, I tried again, failed, and called, only to get 90% through the process and have the line go dead after 22 minutes. Now both scared and irritated, I smoked a cigarette, answered a couple of emails, and called back. That's when I got Ali.

She told me calmly that the policy I'd chosen had been withdrawn by the carrier. Like a cheap airfare on travelocity.com, it had simply vaporized. Until that moment, I hadn't realized how much the election of Donald Trump had unhinged me, what dark sorcery it had worked once it percolated down into my psyche. I didn't go off at Ali, who told me she'd had to abort her graduate studies in sociology to take the job when she'd run out of money, and understood completely how I felt. I'm generally incapable of going off at phone agents, because I know they're just the hired help and often struggling, too. But I did go off. On injustice. On stupidity. And on the privileged maniac who might soon be allowed to deny my family and others like it health insurance. Somewhere along the line, I felt that rising tightness in my throat that precedes either a sob or scream. I didn't, but it's the knowing you might that matters.

Ali talked me down. Blessed Ali, Our Lady of Mercies, took care of me. Twenty-eight year-old (I'm guessing) once and future graduate student and one-day sociologist, she spent 42 minutes on the phone with me and did not give up until our coverage was signed, sealed, and delivered. And for those 42 minutes, the voice of the turtledove was heard in the land. Tender Ali, face of the State, cared about my family. Tom Joad hovered over our ceremony, and we were all part of one big soul. And that is as it should be.

Thank you, Ali. And thanks, Obama.
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