The last week of enrollments really were a test. My team and I had the same conversation as always– “I really want to get this person enrolled. I really hope the website will let me.” It seems like a matter of chance but in the worst peaks of the website capacity, luck was all we had. We have patients who we have followed through this process since the summer. Individuals who have seen every crash in the website, every coded flaw and have stayed persistent in their faith that they will get health insurance. They are patient, they are understanding. These people are the reason my team was burning last week to enroll. We were running on fumes on extended hours, weekend and night appointments, so hungry to get as many as possible enrolled. We just wanted it so badly.
Every Christmas story has a familiar frame: there’s a hard story to overcome, a test that challenges values and strength, and the miraculous turn that reestablishes belief and hope. My holiday season of enrollments showed this over and over again. I want to speak about this Saturday. I had appointments scheduled back to back all day and everyone showed. As we got closer to the 12/23 deadline, no shows were rare. People were yearning for insurance and they followed through. They heard us loud and clear when we said come prepared. They brought friends, neighbors, little ones. We quickly figured out our supplies kit should include extra chairs, kleenex, coffee, crayons and coloring books, pens, folders, index cards. Towards the end of this first deadline in enrollment, our waiting rooms and offices felt more like small family gatherings. We saw familiar faces, we saw new ones that entered our Primecare family. This Saturday followed was no different. I was about three appointments in when the website starting acting funny– too many people on the site, error messages, and the yellow screen of death that lets you know electronic verification is just not going to happen.
I got on the phone with the Marketplace hotline for a grand total of 3.5 hours with 3 different clients and I was surprised by the kindness of some; the absolute rudeness of some. Beatriz and I were on the phone for almost 2 hours together- the English speaking agent scoffed off my request for a Spanish speaking agent and promised a short wait time on the Spanish side. I later reasoned she sent us back to central circulation and back to the beginning of the line. Beatriz had walked in as I had already been on the line on hold for 1 hour with Pedro and his wife. I was pretty irate by the time the Marketplace got on the line with him, but almost lost my cool when they told him the website issues were due to volume and that he should try his application later. He looked at me and said, “But doesn’t she know I’m here now?” Pedro and I ended up trying two different applications before deciding we would be in touch as he made attempts over the weekend.
Beatriz and Pedro supported each other through the application process. It was way after the office had closed. They kept each other spirits up; gave each other encouraging words exchanged giggles and laughs over the horrible hotline music. Eventually, after a cup of coffee we all chirped up and things didn’t look so bad: we could all be alone trying to get through a rough patch in the application, but in the comfort of our office, we were together. We were a mismatch family. Sometimes, even health insurance enrollments needs a family of support and I’m grateful we had such beautiful company that day.
We ended up calling it quits after 2 hours on the phone for Beatriz; she was too tired, too emotionally wiped, but I couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t satisfied. I still walked home so unsure that night- how much of an impact was I making with a site that worked like that?? I continued working on her application from home (Bertha granted me status as an approved representative). Picture this: it’s 9PM Sunday night and I finally get through. We had already chatted about plans- she knew down to the T what plan she wanted. She just needed luck on her side and here it was. The exhilaration was too much and I couldn’t help myself– I picked up the phone and called her at 10PM. She answered on the first ring and said, “Oh, thank god. I wanted to call you but didn’t want to be that person.” I let her know that she was enrolled and the relief in her breath was so audible it made my heart lurch. She didn’t have words for me- and she didn’t need them. Her thank you said it all to me. She had expected me to forget; to stop trying: that’s not me. She then told me her belief in serendipty: “I met your team because I was supposed to; sometimes God places specific people your way. I needed help and you did it. I’m going to send everyone I know.” I had met Beatriz a month ago and she had suffered three appointments where the website failed and she hung on with us. Being able to enroll her and finally say “Merry Christmas” and mean, really mean it, was more than I could bear, and I’m not ashamed to say I cried like a baby that night.
Pedro tried the website countless times; he was on the phone, strongly patient and brave and could not get through. He called me on the 24th shy at the call, but I said, “Pedro, please. Shyness is for anyone else but us- you’re family.” I couldn’t get Pedro enrolled electronically. I’m finding that no amount of technology, forms, verification checks help some of our most vulnerable legal permanent residents or unbankable folks (think those with no credit or bank accounts). I was prepared to receive his fury but I was surprised to hear him steal a page from my book, “What’s the game plan here?”
I push the game plan, the what’s next, because you always need a contingency. We plan, the website laughs. Pedro and I figured out a plan and submitted a paper application immediately. I was scared he’d be upset but as we closed out the conversation on the 24th he said, “…and I can come to you with the next step?” “Heck yeah you can–you’re family.” We’re in for the long haul together.
This season of enrollments taught me so much. It is a privilege to do what we do, to hear stories, to impact lives, to get people through one of the hardest steps in recent memory. I was fortunate to see quite a number of Christmas miracles in the last few weeks to reinstate my hope. I also saw some miraculous examples of faith and understanding that remind me of the resilience of my community. These are people that have been waiting for a while and they are not going to be stopped by a website, by snow, by documents, by anything. They will be back, and we will be waiting.
Hope is a funny thing- sometimes you can see it, sometimes you can’t, but lately I can feel it all the time. We’re getting people through to the other side, a side that includes health insurance for the first time for many of them. We’re building a community and a support network in the process, and maybe that’s just my way. It’s personal. It means everything. It’s the utmost privilege and ultimately what makes every day of it worth it.