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Monday, November 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 45.0° F  Fog/Mist
The Daily
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Battling to stay on BadgerCare

The launch of Obamacare's health insurance exchanges was dominated by stories of families struggling with computer glitches to enroll in the program. I don't have an Obamacare horror story, because we're battling with Badgercare.

Thank goodness we're relatively healthy. Knock on wood. But the healthcare needs are piling up: The boys are overdue for vaccination boosters. I need a follow-up pap and some help with my knees, and Andrew probably needs to keep an eye on the colon, with his dad's history. We're 47, with two teenagers, and currently uninsured.

Chalk it up to Badgercare's onerous bureaucracy. We had been enrolled (quite satisfactorily) in the Group Health Cooperative's HMO through Badgercare Plus when the letters started arriving: prove your self-employment income, now prove it again, you make too much money (huh?), we need pay stubs, income reports.

Each time they asked, we went digging into the paper piles and files, had Andrew's employer fill out forms, submitted all the requisite paperwork. We did what they asked -- or at least we tried. It seemed like they had counted my income twice, but no one would ever admit that. We rarely talked to a human, and the letters kept coming. "Leo and Julian: [now 14] you are making more money from your business or farm." "You did not pay your premium" -- But we didn't get coupons. What premium? How much do we owe? Where? Who do we talk to?

I'd become ineligible because my self-employment income was too high. But when I crunched the numbers, it was lower than the previous years. Andrew talked to kind but clueless state or county employees until he was shaking with rage. Still no progress.

An ombudsman said we should reapply, so we did. That meant starting over with the forms, the numbers. Letters keep coming, each one more confusing than the last. Yesterday, a packet arrived, explaining our benefits. Are we enrolled? Did we make it?

Throughout this whole ordeal, I kept thinking: I'm a college-educated professional. How does someone with limited English skills, or less life experience, deal with these challenges? What about someone who faces violence in her home and can't get access to the papers? How many people have been dropped from the BadgerCare rolls because of these misunderstandings, or for failing to produce the mountains of paperwork required?

And then there's the shame. I know better than to fall for the "welfare queen" crap, but I foster a lingering guilt about using resources others need more. I somehow got recruited to speak at a press conference to try to save BadgeCcare and I ended up feeling lucky compared to people with life-threatening situations and illnesses.

And I was raised to think I'd succeed. That's it, too. I have actually made some money in the arts, unlike so many struggling (and starving) artists. But none of my gigs have benefits. We string together an income with non-lucrative careers like freelance writer, editor, musician (me) and composer, massage therapist (him). I gave up my full-time-with-benefits job in 2006 to chase our theater dreams to Off Broadway. I love what I do. I don't regret my choices; but I also don't want to fear some health care catastrophe. And I want my kids to be able to go to college.

According to an Isthmus article, Gov. Scott Walker justified his ludicrous decision to turn down an estimated $4.4 billion in federal subsidies for Medicaid/BadgerCare because Medicaid "should not become a permanent way of life."

Yes, Scotty, I agree: I have better ways to spend my time than producing paperwork and arguing with beleaguered public workers. Let's be like every other industrialized society and get this out of the way.

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