Since leaving the security of a teaching position, I’ve had to wrestle with the Heath Insurance Marketplace through HealthCare.gov to secure and maintain relatively affordable health coverage. I wouldn’t call my strained interaction with HealthCare.gov a legitimate hardship, but it has been an exhausting, sigh-inducing annoyance. My situation has been unorthodox, but leaving an employer under any circumstances can send a person traipsing through a minefield while seeking coverage.
I’ve been attempting to build a portfolio as a freelance writer during the past ten months. This doesn’t exactly pay the bills. While writing, I’ve been using my savings to cover expenses. I’ve managed a few paying gigs, but I’ve not been collecting checks for these. People have been paying me through PayPal. Many freelancing jobs work this way. This arrangement has created a problem with my coverage.
To continue receiving the tax credit that lowers the cost of my coverage and copays, I’ve had to verify my income with HealthCare.gov. Without a paycheck, I haven’t been able to do this in a way that satisfies the good people who run the organization. I can verify my wife’s income via her business and the quarterly tax returns she submits, but I’m not running a business and I have no such returns of my own. The good people at HealthCare.gov haven’t been happy about this.
Early in 2015, HealthCare.gov prompted me to provide some form of income verification. I spoke with several representatives and explained my situation to each of them. Each one told me that I could submit any documents that showed either how much I had been earning or spending. I could send tax returns from the previous year, bank statements, reports of any dividends, even copies of my lease. I submitted everything I had. It wasn’t enough.
By mid summer, the good people at HealthCare.gov informed me that I’d lost my tax credit because I couldn’t verify my income. Further attempts to explain my lack of income failed. My premium rose dramatically. My copays rose exponentially. For example, an ER visit changed from $100 to $4500 (that isn’t a typo). Let me emphasize once more that prices for everything increased because I couldn’t prove that I was earning any money.
I can afford the increases. Despite not earning much this past year, I still have enough money saved that I could continue in this manner for a few additional years. Strangely, the Health Insurance Marketplace does nothing to verify resources. I’m guessing many of the people who need to secure coverage through HealthCare.gov aren’t sitting on the kind of wealth I have. What happens when they can’t verify income? Surely other creative types who do freelance work would face similar difficulty establishing their earnings through the site. Do they just end up going broke while paying for coverage? This seems to be what the Affordable Care Act was intended to prevent.
Again, my situation admittedly is an anomaly. Most people don’t leave their career without a viable alternative at the ready (or close to it). Many who do—including teachers who flee the field—have a spouse with a verifiable income and possibly access to transferrable benefits. I know there are outliers, though. Each interaction I have with HealthCare.gov makes me wonder about those anomalies like me.