Faces of the Affordable Care Act: Health care quest complex for Vancouver couple with newborn

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter



Examining Health Reform

Editor’s note: This is the third story in a series of articles looking at how the Affordable Care Act affects the residents of Clark County. The Columbian is sharing the stories of residents who have found cheaper health insurance through the state-based exchange, are qualified for expanded Medicaid, are opting to pay a penalty rather than purchase a health plan and are unhappy with the new insurance offerings.

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Health insurance profile

Name: Nick Smith.

Age: 29.

Family members: Wife, Corena, 27; daughter, Harper, 1 month.

Annual family income: $30,000.

Current coverage: Veterans Administration, Medicaid and uninsured.

Qualify for federal subsidy: Medicaid.

New coverage: VA, Medicaid and employer-provider plan.

Discussing insurance coverage is complicated in the Smith house. That's because the Vancouver family of three has secured coverage from three sources.

Nick and Corena Smith had great insurance coverage through Corena's employer-provided plan. But when Corena, 27, began her unpaid maternity leave in early October, that meant the couple would soon lose their coverage.

Because Corena hadn't been at her job for one year, her insurance expired Oct. 31. And that meant Nick, Corena and new baby, Harper, were all uninsured.

Finding health insurance for Corena and Harper, born Oct. 13, became Nick's No. 1 priority.

"For me, after getting through a successful delivery and a couple nights at home, that was the most important thing for me, that Harper had insurance," Nick, 29, said. "The same for Corena. Labor is no easy task. Who knew if she was going to need to see doctors after the delivery."

Corena decided to take a different job. After she starts her new licensed practical nurse job next month, she'll be eligible for health coverage through her employer beginning Jan. 1. She can add Nick and Harper to her plan, but that will cost the family another $200 per person. That's money the family doesn't have.

Nick graduated from the University of Oregon in June with a degree in journalism, but his job search has so far been unsuccessful. In the meantime, the family relies on Corena's income.

The single income means the family qualifies for Medicaid coverage for Harper, but getting the newborn signed up for the state insurance plan proved to be challenging.

The week after Harper's Oct. 13 birth, Nick filled out an application through the Washington Healthplanfinder website, but didn't yet have the baby's Social Security number. Without the number, the website gave an error message and flagged the application, Nick said.

Once Nick had Harper's Social Security number, he corrected the application and resubmitted it. But, again, he got an error message. When he tried calling the Healthplanfinder customer service line, he heard an automated message. The call center was too busy; he was advised to call back later.

"It would not even accept our calls," Nick said.

He and Corena tried for several days to get through. They woke up at 7:30 a.m. to get on the phone before the wait list was too long. Finally, after going through the Medicaid office, tracking down another phone number and waiting on hold for an hour, Nick talked to someone who could correct the application.

Harper was approved for coverage Nov. 4.

"It was definitely a frustrating process," Nick said.

Nick served in the Marines and the National Guard and was declared 20 percent service disabled. He was able to get insurance coverage through the Veterans Administration. Corena remains uninsured until her employer plan kicks in.

But by Jan. 1, they'll all be covered.

"So we are all three covered but all through different places," Nick said.

Nick hopes that's temporary.

"Once I get a job, we can afford to pay for health care," Nick said. "We're completely open to that. It's just there's not a whole lot of options right now."