This is a follow up to a post from yesterday…delving into the more difficult issue of the recession: Applying for government aid for assistance in paying my medical bills for the duration of my pregnancy and after my child was born. There are many social stigmas attached to applying for and receiving aid and I felt every single self-imposed pressure that came with that. And on top of that, there was the difficulty of even qualifying for aid. I ended the journey feeling like the system was only built for those that wanted to take “real advantage” of it and the taxpayers and not for those people, like myself, that were going through a rough time paying medical bills in time of recession.
One thing about me, I am too proud to ask for help. I hate to borrow money from friends or family, even if I really need it. I always seem to find a way to make it through and find the money or budget differently. But when it came to my pregnancy and the medical care I could not find…or that I could not afford…I needed help. I knew I had to ask for it. I scoured the internet for clinics that cared for pregnant women in hopes I could find a low cost solution in the Bay Area. I even phoned Planned Parenthood to only find out they only care for women in the first trimester of pregnancy. My only recourse was to seek assistance via government aid. Medicaid.
The process seemed pretty involved from what I researched on the internet. I just needed to gather all of my bills, pay stubs and bank statements. I printed an application online and completed it prior to going into the downtown Oakland Social Services office. Upon arriving, I walked up to the front doors and just before I entered, a man in his early 20’s (I’m guessing) looked at me and said, “This place ain’t for white people.” WOW! No Joke people, this is a verbatim statement that was made to me, for me and people like me. I already felt uncomfortable going in and asking for help, taking money from the taxpayers…and now I was feeling even more defeated. I walked in, took my number and took a seat in the large lobby. I was one of maybe 60 people waiting to be seen and heard. I was surrounded by all races, but being in the Oakland office clearly put me in the minority. I was beginning to feel that being a well-dressed white woman was working against me. I tried to comfort myself and put my fears out of my mind and focus on what was more important..the health of my baby.
It was late in the afternoon before I was pulled in to a group counsel type session prior to being seen by an intake specialist. The pregnant women were pulled into a different room together and a couple of workers ran us through our options. I was the only newbie in the room and I was given a bit of extra information by an extremely helpful worker. I was so confused by all of the information because I wasn’t sure where I stood in the “approved” realm. I ended up bursting into tears because I hadn’t been able to see a doctor since I had been in the Bay Area. I had been there for two months, which means I was 5 months along. I just didn’t have enough money for that kind of out-of-pocket expense and I could not find anyone to take me on as a patient anyhow. Apparently, there are many doctors that won’t take a pregnant woman unless they’ve been a patient from the beginning of the pregnancy. I’m sure this is a policy to avoid any unwanted malpractice suits, but I found it terribly unfair. This is something I encountered throughout my process. More on that a little later.
Finally, it was time to meet with my intake specialist. A brute of a woman came to retrieve me and guided me back to a nondescript tan cubicle, one in a sea of like cubicles. We sat down and I was so hopeful that this was going to be a good meeting and that everything would be just fine. It just had to be. I don’t pray that often, but this was one of those moments. I began by giving her all of the information that was requested via the website and she promptly entered every bit. After she was done, she then requested my husbands information. I informed her that I didn’t have it, as the website clearly stated that individuals applying for “pregnancy benefits only” did not need to pro0vide that information. And let me tell you, I did bring in his pay stubs and bank account information, but I didn’t have his birth certificate or ID. This information simply was not required. It was a government rule in the program for pregnant women. She told me she could not approve me without that information. I was so overwhelmed with emotion at this point, that I was just angry. I came to the conclusion that she was used to dealing with people that hadn’t done research and maybe didn’t even have the internet at their disposal to do such. I also felt like I was being discriminated against…because I was white. Again, I felt that well-dressed white women don’t belong there. I was practicing full disclosure (and from my understanding, that isn’t a common practice of those that do apply for aid). I disclosed every bit of money we earned, what we had in the bank, where I worked (with the County of Alameda…the same employer she had). She punched our information into her computer and it did the calculations. If approved, we would be required to pay a share of cost of $2400 per month. At the end of each month, it would start all over. I was shocked. I had so many bills that added up to pretty close to zero leftover and we had to pay a share of cost. Again, I was overwhelmed. The system was not designed for people that are struggling to pay their bills, it’s designed to help those that have no income coming in at all. So, in order for me to get benefits, I would have to quit my job, move to a slum that we could afford on one meager income…and then we could milk the system for all it’s worth! I’m all for helping people that have very low income or no income, but this system doesn’t let those people better themselves. If they do, they will not get any assistance or get very little that really doesn’t help in the long run. God forbid you hit a rough spot and are hardly making ends meet and trying to better your situation…there is not much help for those people…people like me.
I’m not gonna lie…I will tell you, in that office, I was surrounded by persons, male and female, that were NOTtrying to better themselves. There were drug addicts that couldn’t hold down a job, there were large immigrant families that just arrived in the United States and some belligerent folks that were yelling in the lobby that they need their food stamps NOW. Many of these people were not people helping themselves except to taxpayer money. I know you are wondering how I know this… Well, because the cubicles afforded no privacy. I could hear many conversations with intake workers and I could hear private phone conversations with the boyfriends of the women there that were waiting for their money so they could go buy drugs. Yeah. This system wasn’t meant for me and my family, but again, I had no choice but to try.
At the end of the meeting, the worker told me that I would not be approved until she received my husbands information. I had ten days to turn it into her or I would have to reapply. Holy Crap! I have to give her information that isn’t even necessary for approval in order to be approved. My husband in Mexican and clearly so by his name. I honestly think she requested his information to make sure he was a citizen and to have him in the system in case ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) needs to know where to pick him up. It seemed every other intake worker that was within my earshot was kind and was trying to help the people they were serving. But this brute chic… I hated her by the time I left. I don’t hate people that often, it takes a lot. I usually just leave them out of my thoughts and become indifferent. I hated this woman.
A few days later, I turned in my husbands information, a copy of his passport and his birth certificate. After a month, we were finally sent an approval letter and we were finally assigned to a different worker. A real social worker that actually listened and cared. She was responsive to all of my requests and answered all of my questions. I wrote a letter of complaint to the intake workers supervisor. I received a call and the gentleman wanted to discuss my letter. I had told him about the brute woman asking for my husbands information. He agreed that she didn’t need it and he didn’t understand why she had asked for it. I said, “Maybe your team needs more training in this area. The woman I dealt with barely spoke English.” I told him that maybe she needed better training geared towards her propensity to misunderstand because there were a lot, A LOT of “what’s” going back and forth. I was trying to give her the benefit of the doubt (even though I hated her), that maybe she misunderstood what I was telling her or maybe she didn’t understand the rules and guidelines set forth as it applies to pregnancy only benefits due to her lack of understanding of the English language. Well, he ended up saying that I was racist and whatnot. Yep, me, married to a Mexican is a racist. Me, living in the melting pot that is the Bay Area is a racist. Again, I won’t lie. I do stereotype on occasion, but most of the time it isn’t about race. For example, I have an issue with rich people. Actually, many issues…but that isn’t my point right now. There is a history there that is for another time. Anyways, this guy pretty much ticked me off and I was no happier than when we began the conversation. I threw my hands up and moved on and tried to forget. (But does it look like I have forgotten, hells NO!)
Finally, it was time for me to quit working and my turn for maternity leave. I had approximately a month and a half before I was to give birth. As soon as I could, I applied for disability to get me through. I wouldn’t begin getting that for another few weeks. We had to live on what we had…very, very little. I reported to my worker that I was not earning any income and she changed my benefits to fully paid. However, in doing this, I did not know that my entire benefit plan would change. Yep, that’s right. It changed. This meant I could no longer see the doctor (That I loved to pieces) because she was not covered by the new plan. I was only informed of this when I called my doctor to make an appointment. I was informed by the receptionist that I did not qualify to see the doctor anymore. I would have to go elsewhere. When I tried to appeal to the office manager, I was told there was nothing they could do. That is the way the system works and the doctors make no exceptions. I figured that I was lucky to be fully covered and didn’t have to pay $200 per visit anymore and I totally counted all of those little blessings. So, I began my search for another doctor. I went down the list of doctors I downloaded from the internet and called them one by one. None of them would or could take me. It was the same story. Every single one. These doctors could not take women that they haven’t been seeing from the beginning of their pregnancy. NONE! Holy shit! Now what am I going to do? I can’t see my doctor, I can’t see a new doctor… I just don’t get it. Do you get it?
I called the social worker and told her what was going on. She couldn’t change me back to the old plan because I didn’t qualify. I called the new plan administrators and they were perplexed. They finally decided that it would work if they sent a letter to the doctors office informing them that they will pay all of the charges if they can continue seeing me. The doctors office declined their offer. They said it was against their policy. Can’t policies be overlooked in extreme cases such as this? I was advised by some well-meaning people that I should ask to talk to the doctors, state my case and plead with them. I did not feel the head doctor would have any sympathy. He was all business. So, I decided not to go that route. After two days and many phone conversations with the plan administrator (wonderful woman), she was hitting a brick wall just as hard as I was. She advised me to call the ombudsman and state my case to them. I did make that call. They made a decision to switch my plan back to the original so I could continue to see my doctor. After that day, it was smooth sailing. My son was born healthy and happy in Berkeley at a wonderful hospital, all expenses paid. We even had a room with a view of the Bay Bridge. My birthing experience was so awesome. We also received aftercare, all expenses paid. The aided road up until then was incredibly rocky, angering, depressing…damn I was an emotional wreck. Shit, I was pregnant after all. It’s emotional anyways. Frickin’ hormones will kill a girl, IF the system doesn’t.
I hope that A) I never have to apply for aid ever, ever again. It will be a cold day… and B) that OUR social services system get’s a healthy overhaul. I do wholeheartedly believe that drug tests should be administered prior to qualifying for aid, all applicants should be forced to look for work and better themselves and their situations or in the process of doing so, and compassion given to those that are truly having a hard time with making ends meet and just need a little boost. This recession has to have made an entirely new customer for Social Workers…ones that are educated, internet savvy, and having a temporary difficult time paying bills and taking care of the day to day business of living a half way normal life.
Judge Judy says it best in this little video: http://youtu.be/t9oHRow1DZM