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Back in November, one of my clients asked for help with his Obamacare application.  Like me, he is both a New York resident and has self-employment income.  It would be a good learning experience for me, as I would be putting in my own application soon.  I found the New York health exchange easy to use, living up to the early reviews that it was far superior to the severely flawed Federal website.  It was very responsive each time we clicked on a link and soon we had a completed application except for the choice of plan.

A few weeks later in early December, I confidently ventured onto the same site for my own application.  Once again, entering personal data was quick and easy.  Then it came time to answer the income question: did I expect my 2014 income to be the same as in 2012?  And here was where the nightmare began.

When my client reached this question, he answered “yes”.  Apparently this government agency has access to your 2012 income tax return, but hey, no privacy concern there, right?  Anyway, that answer bypassed a number of additional steps and questions, as I was to find out.

My answer to this question was “no”.  While I did have a net loss of clients in 2013 (some related to my transition and some not) and some associated loss of income, the major reason for a decrease in income was that I had a project in 2011 for which I was able to charge about twenty times my usual average fee.  Three-quarters of my fee had been paid in 2012.  It is highly unlikely that this type of work will come my way again.

To be expected, I was taken to pages on the site to provide my estimated 2014 income.  Unexpectedly, this was where things started to fall apart.

First of all, it did not want to take my income as a self-employed individual.  I found I was only able to enter it if I said that I was an employee of my own company.  A further complication came because it was insisting that I provide data for my last three months of income and expenses.  As a tax preparer, providing my income and expenses for September-November would have vastly understated my net income.  There seemed to be no understanding that some people have seasonal businesses.

But the biggest problem of all was that the site kept timing out on me and returning me to an earlier screen.  I type rapidly and had all the information at my fingertips.  There was no significant delay in my data entry that should have caused this error.

Admitting defeat, I reluctantly called their help line number.  Soon, I was speaking to a capable agent who was more than willing to enter the information that I gave her.  In minutes, I felt vindicated.  She was getting the same time out problems.  Soon, we reached a point (about our fourth or fifth try), where she said that we would try it one more time and if it didn’t work she was going to call tech support.

For some reason, this time it worked.  It was like the Dilbert cartoon where the pointy-haired boss is telling Dilbert that he keeps clicking on a link and it doesn’t work.  Just as Dilbert starts to quote the line that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, the boss clicks again and it works.

So now all the income and expense data is entered.  At this point, she tells me that we cannot proceed any further as they want verification of the financial information I just provided.  Thinking quickly, I ask her what will be acceptable as verification.  I know this might be a problem as my business income comes in the form of about 80 checks a year from almost the same number of individuals.  None of them are required to issue me a 1099.  And there is little reason for me to incur the cost of a separate business bank account, so I don’t have one.

She replies that this is outside of her area, but that in about 7-10 business days, I should receive an e-mail providing this information.  Unfortunately, I received no such e-mail and that time frame took me to December 23, the original deadline by which you had to have completed your application to be covered by January 1 (which they magnanimously extended one day).  There was no way I was getting through on the phone then.

So I called back between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  This time, I got an all too familiar government bureaucrat bozo.  When I asked what I could use as verification of my income and expenses, he replied to my amazement, “We don’t tell you what to send.”

Keep in mind that I worked for HUD for three years, a local housing authority for four years, and then was a stock broker for over twenty years which meant that my activities ultimately came under regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission of the Federal Government (and I had to know those regulations to pass my licensing exam).  And for the past twenty-five years, I have dealt with the IRS, the NY State Department of Taxation and Finance, and New York’s counterparts in a few other states in my work as a paid tax preparer.  Finally, as part of my transition, I needed to know Social Security Administration and NY Department of Motor Vehicles verification requirements.  Never has there been a time when there were not clear regulations on what could be used as verification of statements made on an application.

Even so, I had no basis on which to argue with this agent.  So I am trying to figure out what I can use as verification.  Making a spreadsheet of my income and expenses would have been easy.  But I dismissed it as self-serving.  Anyone could type numbers and descriptions into Excel without a shred of truth in it.

What followed was Kafkaesque with a touch of Seinfeld plot line.  The results were as poor as could be expected under such circumstances.

There was only one way that came to mind as to how I could verify my income in 2013 as being less than in 2012: bank statements.  My bank statements for each year would show that the deposits in 2013 were less than in 2012 (by the differential I had stated in my application).  I was able to download monthly bank statements online from my bank account in a format that was acceptable for uploading to my Obamacare application.

However, there were three problems with this method.  The first was the amount of documents I would need to send.  My bank’s website did not provide a filter so I could retrieve only the deposits.  So I had to upload the entire bank statement.  Twenty-four months’ worth of bank statements at three pages each would mean a lot of pages for some bureaucrat to review.

The second problem was directly related to my transition.  Knowing who I might be dealing with, I wanted to make it as foolproof as possible.  The name on the account in 2012 did not match the name in 2013.  I could not count on the reviewer noting that the account number did not change.  So I uploaded a cover letter with an explanation and also uploaded my name change documents.  Now some reviewer has an awful lot of information about me.  I could just see him or her calling over another reviewer: “Get a load of this person’s application!”

Finally, there is the fact that deposits show income but not expenses.  And while 99% of my deposits are business-related, many of the expenses are for personal items.  I explained that the expenses are independent of income and are basically the same from year to year.  Since the expenses are approximately the same in 2013 as in 2012 (which information they already had), the deposit differential is essentially the same as my decrease in net income.

I was able to upload all this in the first week of January.  And then I waited, and waited and waited some more for the great State of New York to reply.

Knowing I would be getting much busier over the next two and a half months, I called back at the end of January.  I figured that four weeks was enough time to expect my information to have been reviewed.  This time, the person on the other end of the phone was very competent in her job.

She noted the large number of documents that I had uploaded and said it would take a few minutes before they would all be available.  While we waited, I was able to ask her a few questions about Medicaid and how it worked.  Finally, she told me that she was able to see on her screen that they were in the process of reviewing my documents, which means they should be finished soon.

And soon they were: the documentation I supplied was not considered sufficient proof of my self-employment income.  When I received a hard copy of this notice, it came with a document that set forth all the acceptable means of verifying any statement you might make on your application: the very information I was unable to receive a month earlier.  They wanted more hard proof, not just my statement that expenses were unchanged.

So I did something that I hadn’t done for at least 30 years (since becoming self-employed made my tax return more complicated), if ever.  I was preparing my own tax return at the beginning of February instead of working on my clients’ returns.  And as soon as I learned that my e-filed return had been accepted by the IRS, on February 11, I submitted my entire, five page, 2013 Federal Income Tax return as my most up to date proof of my income and expenses.  And I sent a copy of the proof that my e-filed return had been accepted).

I went back to the waiting game.  Around March 18, I called.  It was another trip to Bozoland.  First, he told me that they hadn’t even started reviewing my latest submission.  Okay, there’s nothing he could do about that.  But then he made the most ridiculous statement.  I mentioned the irony that I would have qualified for Medicaid using the income on my 2012 return.  (I was told this by the competent agent on my previous call.)  His response?  He actually told me that you don’t apply for Medicaid through the website that I was calling about!  Since the client I had helped months earlier had his Medicaid benefit card by now, I knew this was patently absurd.

By the time April 15 came and went, I still had not heard anything.  As it turned out, my health care nightmare was only beginning.

Praise God that for those of us who are in Christ, we are only sojourners here and we have a better country to look forward to.

And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. – Revelation 22:1-2

God bless,

Lois

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