Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pope Francis, Pretty Words, and My Medicare Nightmare: An Update

While Pope Francis was in the U.S., I reported to you from the real world about my ongoing nightmare with Medicare — a nightmare that has everything in the world to do with the fact that Steve and I married in May 2014 when a judge in Arkansas knocked down the ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, and then I became Medicare-eligible in April 2015 while the Arkansas Supreme Court was maintaining a stay on same-sex marriages that called the legality of all the marriages that had occurred in May 2014 into question.

I won't rehash the details of the story here. You can find them by clicking on the link above. What I do want to bring to your attention is that as late as the final week of August, according to this report by Max Brantley at Arkansas Times, there was uncertainty about whether Social Security was processing claims for benefits that had been made by legally married same-sex couples in Arkansas. Previously, Social Security was refusing to process such claims, and as a result, was sued last year by Lambda Legal.

And so back to my story: after Obergefell came down in late June this year, the state of Arkansas, my husband's employer, announced that legally married same-sex spouses could access healthcare benefits under the healthcare plans of their spouse. Steve and I immediately enrolled me in his healthcare plan when this happened.

I contacted the national Medicare office to ask how I could go about dropping the plan B option of Medicare coverage I had chosen on 1 April, when it was impossible for me to have coverage under my spouse's healthcare plan. Medicare told me to write a letter to its national office informing them that I was dropping plan B.

I did that on 30 June, sending a cc of that letter to the regional Medicare office in Kansas City. And then, nothing happened in response to that letter, though I made countless phone calls to the national Medicare office, the national Social Security office, and the state offices over the period from 1 July up to early September, when I was finally told to submit a form (which had then been mailed to me) requesting that my plan B coverage be dropped.

I did this several weeks ago, attaching a copy of the letter I had sent Medicare on 30 June and explaining that I had made numerous attempts to have Medicare act on that letter following 30 June, and nothing had happened. Two days ago, I received a notice from the regional Social Security office in Kansas City.

It informs me that my plan B coverage has now been dropped as I requested. It also tells me I owe Social Security payments for plan B from the period 1 July to the end of August, to the tune of $104.90. In late July, when I had received a bill for plan B coverage and called the national Social Security office, I was told by the person to whom I spoke that he could call up my file on his computer, could see my 30 June letter requesting that plan B coverage be dropped, and that I should simply wait until the problem was resolved.

I asked him what to do about the bill I had received. He told me to ignore it.

After receiving the letter from Social Security two days ago, I have contacted legal counsel, which tells me absolutely not to pay Social Security for coverage I understood myself to have dropped at the end of June. 

And, of course, I now realize that in all likelihood, the nightmare in which I've been involved all these months, which I took to be a bureaucratic nightmare caused by a malfunctioning government system, is also connected to the apparent refusal of Social Security until this month to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples that occurred in the state of Arkansas in May 2014.

And for all I know, by publicizing this story and by insisting that Medicare-Social Security honor the letter I sent them on 30 June requesting that my plan B Medicare coverage be dropped, I am only creating more misery for myself.

But remember: it's Kim Davis who needs the protective mantle of the pope wrapped around her. 

Not the likes of me and other LGBT people struggling to have the same rights others take for granted, to be treated with human decency and to be accorded respect as human beings.

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