What It’s Like to Apply for Health Insurance in 2013

In October 2011, I got laid off. It was a department-wide layoff, and I was definitely the most excited person in the room. I was doing math while HR spoke to us about not coming back to the office drunk and kicking over desks. By the end of the HR director’s Office Space routine, I’d figured out that I’d get 12 weeks of severance — plenty of money to start up my own business, which is what I’d been wanting to do for at least two years.

Even better, I’d get COBRA for 18 months, starting at the end of my severance. My health insurance was pretty spectacular, and I wanted to hang onto it as long as possible. If I’d known then when I know now, I would have clung to it even more tightly.

Fast forward to May, 2013. My COBRA, I knew, would come to an end as of July 31. Being a thorough type of person, I decided to start researching right away, to make sure that I’d have the best possible coverage by the time my old insurance was through.


It turns out, in 2013, there is not such thing as good coverage for a sole proprietor. There is either shitty coverage, for a lot of money each month, and a medium-sized deductible, or OK coverage, for a lot of money each month, and a gigantic deductible. There are other options, where I believe they just come over to your house, take all your old stereo equipment and your wedding rings, have sex with your spouse, break your knees, and leave, but you can usually avoid that, as long as you’re not overweight.

I’m mostly kidding.

My actual options were:

1. Health insurance plan A, the HMO version of my awesome coverage from my old company. This would be through Adam’s student association, and seemed pretty great — except that he’d have to switch to it, too, and we’d have to pay up front for the rest of the year, to the tune of about $3,000. Pass.

2. Health insurance plan B, through the same company that insures NYC teachers, firemen, cops, and sanitation workers. Accepted by no one, because fuck all those useless people, right? Who do they think they are? This one was reasonably priced, meaning that it only cost as much as my rent each month.

3. Health insurance plan C. High deductible, just about the same rate as plan B, accepted by all my doctors. Available through one of my professional associations. I went with this one, for obvious reasons. By the time I work through the deductible, though, it’ll be 2014, and I’ll have to start over again. But at least if I get really sick, I’ll be covered.

I filed my paperwork and sent in my binder check, and waited. And waited. And waited. Two weeks before my insurance was due to start, I realized I might want to figure out if I’d been accepted. I called the office, instigating a massive search for my paperwork. While they looked, I went through the following scenarios in my head:

1. They’ve lost the paperwork for good, which means that my check and tax documents are just … out there, somewhere, waiting for someone to steal my identity.

2. They have my paperwork, but I’m being rejected for having used my old health insurance too much, and everyone at the insurance office is fighting over who has to be the person to tell me.

3. Option No. 2, plus all the other health insurance companies will reject me, and I won’t be able to get any health insurance, and I’ll wind up on NY1 telling everyone my sad story. Or more likely, I’ll set up an interview with NY1, and then get hit by a bus on the way over. While I’m flattened on the road, the emergency services people will lean over and whisper gently in my ear, “What insurance do you have?” And I will immediately expire from rage and frustration.

Shortly after my heart rate hit 150 and I started feeling lightheaded, the insurance office wrote to say my application was processing and everything looked good. I lay down on the rug and started doing Lamaze, although I am not pregnant and can’t afford to have a baby, even with health insurance.

Anyway, I’m telling you all this so that you’ll understand what it’s like in my head at all times, and also what it’s like to try to get insurance right now. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about what’s going to happen to us when Obamacare goes through, and maybe it’ll be a nightmare hellscape, but I have to say, trying anything at this point is better than trying nothing. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that things get better, not worse.


Image: hfb/Flickr

So You’re in Hell: 9 More Things You Can’t Do in This Christing Heat

Dear Con Edison,

I recently received, via my internet mailbox, a helpful missive from you entitled “9 Tips to Stay Cool in the Heat.” I used to compose email newsletters for one of my thousands of jobs, and so I was surprised and impressed at the helpful information contained in your message, which included such advice as “buy an expensive new air conditioner, and wait for us to mail you $25,” “close your blinds,” and “don’t turn your oven on.”

I couldn’t help but notice that all of your advice, except for the bit about the air conditioner, was appropriate for either a heatwave or the zombie apocalypse. Or, as my friend Kate put it, “Sit in the dark and don’t bake a cake.” Since that’s generally how I behave when I’m at home — sitting in the dark, not making food — I’m not sure that it will make a big difference in my quality of life, but I appreciate the thought anyway.

To show you how much I appreciate it, I thought I’d compose a list of things that you, Con Edison, the anthropomorphized corporate entity, should not do during this horrible heatwave. You are welcome in advance. I’ll not see you on the jitney, as I’m too broke from buying new energy-efficient ACs to go to the Hamptons.

1. Do not bend over and kiss your own ass. As amusing as this would be for me, I know from trying to do basic physical therapy exercises in my living room that it’s far too hot for anything that strenuous.

2. In fact, do not do anything other than lie on your sofa and suffer like the rest of us dumb animals. The good news is, it’s too hot to care about how boring you’re being.

3. Do not do anything involving the suffix “-out.” That includes brownouts, blackouts, wipeouts, etc. It’s very hard to get to my roof. I have to climb up the side of the building or out through a hatch with a wobbly ladder. This makes it very hard to catch a breeze and/or leap to my death when it gets to warm to live. Please have pity.

4. Do not suggest solutions that involve money. Your clients are already paying approximately $1.3 million each per month to have air conditioning. We don’t have any more money. You took it all.

5. Do not propose suggestions that involve leaving the house. How would I get this miracle AC unit of which you speak? I imagine I’d have to go out and get it. This being New York, I would also have to hump it home. It’d be like portaging a canoe, only without the refreshing river breeze. I’m a heavy sweater. You don’t want to see what happens when I try to do my own shopping in the heat.

6. Look, I know about AC vents. Stop with the AC vents. We all know we’re supposed to clean them and we never do. We’re all growing a new and deadly breed of Legionnaire’s Disease in our lungs, the bunch of us, but we’re too hot to be arsed.

7. Do not try to cool off by sticking your head in the freezer. I just tried it. It works for a minute, but then the ice cubes start to go and pretty soon you start to worry about the ice cream. And since we’ve already established that no one is going out until October, we need to hold onto all the ice cream we have.

8. About this item: “When you set your thermostat, keep in mind that every degree you lower it increases costs by 6 percent.” How much do I increase my bill if I keep turning the AC down, but the temperature on my thermostat continues to climb? Eventually, does it cancel out, causing money to spontaneously regenerate in my bank account? Is this a mystery of finance or physics?

9. Do not send me any more fucking email updates. I understand that this is my own fault for not unsubscribing, but it’s to hot to click links.

Thanks again for your assistance and understanding.

I am hot, and not in a fun way,

Your customer


Image: Todd Morris/Flickr

The White Rabbit

If you want to see me really flip out, wait until I miss an appointment. It’ll be a long wait, because it doesn’t happen all that often. However, when it does, I lose human form and turn into a horrible shrieking weep-beast. So if that’s your favorite thing, hang around.

The weep-beast has made an appearance twice this year so far, at least, because I have all these physical therapy appointments, and it’s hard to keep track of them on top of my work-related stuff. I’ve been pretty good, but I did miss an appointment a few months back, because we picked an earlier time than usual, and I spaced, and then one day, I was 20 minutes late because of traffic.

So Monday, when I missed my appointment, it was either my second or third time missing, depending on how you feel about extreme lateness. Thank God Adam was home, otherwise, I think I would have gone back to bed for the day and called it a wash.

“I have a suggestion,” he said, after I stopped doing my Don Music impression. “Why don’t you ask them to give you the same time, on the same days, as much as they can? Because it seems like you only miss when you have a weird appointment time.”

I stopped gnashing my teeth and stared at him.

“They keep giving you all these odd appointment times,” he explained patiently, mistaking my catatonia for incomprehension. “And I just think–”

“No, no, I get it,” I said. “I’m just wondering why I never thought of that.”

“Well, beating yourself up is a full-time job.”

Reason #427 to get married: perspective from a smart person.

"I'm late! I'm late!"
“I’m late! I’m late!”

Image: dullhunk/Flickr

Evil Baby Knows All

My sister sent me this picture this morning:


I feel I should explain.

You see, my niece Luci has a baby doll. The doll’s name is Baby, although in her toddler patois, it comes out more like, “Bebe!” Bebe is a beloved family member, and Luci insists on knowing where she is at all times. She asks for her so frequently that when I went back to New York after my recent visit, I heard Luci’s voice echoing, “Bebe! Bebe!” like you hear the ocean after a couple of days near the sea.

Luci is mostly very kind to Bebe, dressing and undressing her and feeding her bottles and giving her lots of cuddles … until she’s done with Bebe. Then, she throws her down immediately, wherever she is — at preschool, in the supermarket, on a ferry headed toward Boston Light — and it’s your job, as the stupid adult who’s taking care of Luci and Bebe, to make sure Bebe doesn’t wind up in that giant incinerator at the end of “Toy Story 3.”

We’re probably going to wait awhile before getting Luci any babysitting jobs.

All this aside, Luci loves Bebe to an almost inexplicable degree, especially when you consider the fact that Bebe is the most terrifying looking doll in the history of baby dolls. You can’t see it in that picture, but one of her eyes only opens halfway unless you shove it open. I showed this picture to Adam and he said, “Jesus Christ, what’s the matter with that doll? It has Popeye arms.” He noticed the knife second.

I felt the same way about Bebe, and told Meg that I couldn’t sleep in any room where Bebe was looking at me with that one gimlet eye. And like a good sister, Meg immediately started tormenting me with Bebe, first via a series of late night text messages (“I’m in the house!”) and then by making Bebe crawl up whatever piece of furniture I was sitting on, clawing her way toward me with one hand open for a bottle, like her batteries were running down and she just had enough time to kill me before she went.

Then, this morning, I told Meg I missed her and the kids and Mom and Dad so terribly, I wasn’t sure I could get any work done and I’d probably have to go back to bed. And so she sent me that picture.

I still miss them terribly, but now I find I can get things done. I’m scared of what Bebe will do to me if I don’t.

A Clutter of Introverts

When I have to explain the Hubleys to a new person, the shortest way to do it is to tell them that when I was a child, sometimes the doorbell would ring, and then all of us — and I mean all of us, including my baby sister, my mom, and my six-foot-tall father — would dive behind the sofa and wait there until whoever it was went away. It didn’t matter if it was a friend or a relative or a representative from the Church of Latter Day Saints. Under no circumstances, even on our best day, were we equipped to deal with opening the door to a person we weren’t expecting.

There was never any dust behind our furniture and most people learned to call before stopping by.

Later, I discovered that this was not a sign that we would all have to be carted away to some sort of Victorian era sanatorium for a rest cure. It was just another symptom of our personality type, which was and is introverted, no matter how much fun we might seem to be when we’re at parties.

My sister and father are also shy, which is not the same as introverted, but in combination, makes it harder to cope. Meg spoke so little in school that she often got notes about it from the teacher, which she presented to our mother with a trembling lip and giant, tear-filled Keane eyes. Mom would read the notes, set her mouth into a firm line, and put her purse back on her shoulder. Later, alone in our den, we would feast on the remnants of the teachers she’d destroyed, picking our teeth with their marking pens.

That is mostly made up.

I do remember one note she sent in with Meg, however, after she got marked down on a report card for not participating in class.

Dear Mrs. ____,

We received Meghan’s report card and were very happy with her grades. However, we were sorry to see that Meg was marked down for her class participation. Meg, as you probably know, is very shy. It’s not a character flaw; it’s her nature. In fact, it’s probably harder for Meg to speak up in class than it is for most children to stay silent. We’re very proud of how hard she works, and wouldn’t change one hair on her head.


Karen and John Hubley

The teacher was pretty taken with the note, and according to Meg, called her up to the front and told her that her parents clearly loved her very much. It was a nice response. I have friends who work as teachers now, and 50 percent of their day is spent dealing with parents who think little Atticus and Minerva are getting a raw deal, so I’m impressed, even in retrospect, with her good humor.

However, if she’d really wanted to be nice to my sister, she would have just let her hide under the desk.

Now, I’m a freelancer, which is the dream profession for people who would like to be left alone. It’s wonderful, but it has definitely made me even weirder. For instance, my apartment has no doorbell, and I’m mostly pretty delighted with that. When my phone rings, my first response is to swear. And when I have to ride the subway, I throw off massive amounts of creepy energy, to try to get people to move away from me. (This doesn’t work. When there’s a naked guy napping and peeing simultaneously on a bench at the other end of the car, stankface doesn’t get you very far. However, hope springs eternal, etc.)

All of which is just a roundabout way of saying that I’m very much a product of my environment … and I’m getting worse or better, depending on your perspective.

None of these Amish people wants to talk to you. Not even the grandmother.
None of these Amish people want to talk to you. Not even the grandmother.

Things That Will Apparently Make Me Cry When I Have PMS

Obviously inspired by this genius Tumblr.

1. My hairpins are the wrong kind, and won’t stick into my bun easily on the first try.

2. Adam found out that “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” had allusions to Sherlock Holmes. I hate “Ace Ventura.”

3. I found a typo on a second read of something I was editing, which is the whole reason I do second (and third) reads.

4. It’s too hot outside and the AC is too cold.

5. Adam wants to know what’s making me cry, and I can’t explain it.

6. We’re out of milk.

7. Something smells like garbage and I don’t know what.

8. I can’t find my favorite headband.

9. Seriously, the movie “Ace Ventura” exists on the earth. Is that not enough reason to weep?

10. Thanks to bloating, I don’t actually fit in my own underpants.


Image: Sethoscope/Flickr

My Life With Anxiety: When the Lion Is in the Room

My grandmother used to say, “You were the most nervous baby I’ve ever seen.” My grandmother (who was a ferocious and elegant 90-pound lady, like Lillian Hellman and Lauren Bacall had a baby and dressed it in tasteful separates and a hair helmet, and oh God, I miss her so much) looked concerned when she said this, which never failed to aggravate my mother.

“You were a little undercooked,” she’d say. “You had a startle reflex. It had nothing to do with being ‘nervous.’ It was your actual nerves, trying to figure out what the hell was going on out here in the cold.”

I have a lot of faith in Ma Smash’s opinion on everything, but her medical advice is always spookily sound. (“It’s appendicitis,” she told the doctors, long before she had her nursing license and just before my appendix ruptured. “It’s thyroid disease,” she pronounced firmly, thirty years later, when my hair was thinning and I couldn’t lose weight.) Here, though, I wonder if it matters all that much. As a baby, I was either nervous or undercooked. The same could be said for me now. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell is going on, out here in the cold.

Anxious people and depressives are kindred spirits. Everyone secretly believes that if we’d just grow some stones, we could get over it. The truth, of course, is more complex: we can and we can’t, we want to and we don’t, we’re definitely biologically, physically ill, but on the other hand, it’s all in our heads. The doctors and therapists I like best don’t make a distinction: if I feel ill, then I’m ill.

For the most part, I prefer to endure my Victorian lady-nerves without the help of tonics. I feel very brave about this, even though I don’t think there’s anything wrong with better living through chemistry. I am, however, terrified of benzodiazepines. People who say they couldn’t get hooked on these are fooling themselves. Any time I’ve taken them for anything, about twenty minutes after swallowing the pill, I think, “Oh, that’s right: this is AWESOME.” And then I renew my pledge to a) not start taking benzos on a regular basis, and b) be kind to drug addicts, who obviously are the only people on earth with their priorities straight.

I’m so scared of getting hooked on something like this that the few times I’ve been prescribed anti-anxiety medication, I make my doctors promise they won’t give a million refills.

“Just give me a few,” I say. “Whatever you think. And if I call up and ask for more, tell me NO. Pretend we’re in a ’90s era movie starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and you’re the firm but kindly doctor who saves her from a fate worse than death.”

And then, I presume, they start feeling around on the floor for the silent alarm. But they’re always both kind and firm, which I appreciate.

All of this background information is important, because it’ll help you to visualize how odd I felt, when I found myself fighting over a prescription for one single Valium with my doctor. I have to go for an MRI next week, to make sure that my ever-present back situation isn’t secretly my spinal cord trying to break free and scale the alps on its own, presumably while singing and brandishing a walking staff.

You see, I cannot get into an MRI without chemical assistance. It’s not that I don’t want to. The MRI machine and I are like ends of a magnet, or, if you like, a Looney Tunes character being stuffed into a shoe. It’s not going to work without me losing a lot of feathers and the hospital staff winding up with a lot of cross-hatched wear marks on their suddenly tattered lab coats.

“The thing is,” my doctor said. “If I give you a Valium, someone will have to come with you.”

“That’s no problem,” I assured her. “Adam has to come with me. It’s in the fine print of our marriage contract. ‘Will attend all medical procedures with wife, for wife’s safety and that of the populace.'”

“Also,” she said reluctantly. “You can’t drive.”

“I never drive. I don’t even operate a cotton gin.”

She sighed. “And you’re sure the insurance company won’t cover an open MRI? Or you just didn’t want to ask?”

“I don’t dare ask, honestly. Getting them to authorize the procedure was hard enough. I had to talk to maybe twenty people on the phone. At one point, they transferred me back to the first person I talked to. I’m pretty sure the clocks in my house ran backward for a minute and a rift opened in the space-time continuum. Also, I don’t want to make things complicated, because I don’t have however much money they’d want to charge for an MRI, if my insurance company decides they didn’t authorize that variation on that particular procedure. I’m guessing a lot.”

“They’re expensive,” she agreed. She tried a different tack: “I really think that if you can have someone come with you, you won’t need the Valium.”

“Trust me, it won’t matter who comes with me. Adam could come, my mom could come, Billie Holiday could come back from the dead and sing ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.’ None of that would stop me from going crazy.”

“Because of the claustrophobia.”

“As I’ve said” — through gritted teeth — “I don’t have claustrophobia. What I have is PTSD. Remember how I told you about my second appendix surgery, the one where they didn’t give me anesthesia and they just strapped me down and unzipped my stomach like a tauntaun?”

“Oh, yes, I remember now.”

She didn’t, but whatever. “Well, now whenever I have to be immobilized for a test, my mind knows that no one is going to slice me open, but my brain and body are pretty sure we should run for it, just in case. So really, the Valium isn’t for me. It’s for the staff.”

“I’ll give you two,” she said.

“I don’t need two.”

“In case you lose one. Or, you know … need more.”

Goddammit, I’m taking both. If you need me next Tuesday evening, good luck to you all. I’m sure I’ll be very happy to talk to you, but I won’t remember a word we say to each other. It is, however, a rare opportunity for anyone who wants to see me calm for a change. The reason these drugs are dangerous is because them shits is good.


Image: electronicxx/Flickr