Columbia Free Times
Arts + Lifestyle

An Expensive Gift, Hopefully Never Used

By Otis R. Taylor Jr.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013 |
Even those gifted with a disproportionate wealth of Christmas spirit have to get tired of Christmas music. The Christmas season comes earlier each year, and with it come Christmas songs that not only start earlier in the season but also seem to linger on playlists long after the presents have been unwrapped.

So I was surprised — no, relieved — when I walked into a recently opened store off Harbison Boulevard on Friday afternoon to hear the pop star Rihanna. Not my favorite, but at least it wasn’t Christmas music.

“You can only hear so many variations of ‘Silent Night,’ the leather jacket-wearing receptionist said when she noticed I was nodding my head.

She was right. I was immediately singing the “Oh, na-na” hook of “What’s My Name.” It put me in a good mood to buy something to enhance my lifestyle: insurance.

I was at the South Carolina Blue Retail Center. BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina opened the store, with its easily identifiable blue awnings, earlier this month on Bower Parkway a few steps from Columbiana Grande movie theater. It’s the insurance provider’s third retail store in the state, with others in Charleston and Greenville.
(Other companies offering plans approved for the federal exchanges in South Carolina include Consumers’ Choice Health Insurance Company and Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas.)

The Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare, is intended to make health care available for people like me who don’t draw insurance from an employer (I work on a freelance basis) but are willing to buy their own plan.

I had until Dec. 23 to navigate my insurance options and sign up for a plan that will be active on Jan. 1. The deadline was extended from Dec. 15 after the fumbled rollout of Obamacare. (If you haven’t registered, you can still get coverage next year; it just won’t kick in on Jan. 1. The uninsured have until March 31 before incurring penalties.)

Even before the bungled unveiling of the health insurance exchange, Obamacare was a political flashpoint. South Carolina has famously opposed the law — some lawmakers want to ban its implementation — but its citizens are still required under it to get insurance. I want to have health insurance, but I didn’t feel like dealing with the time-wasting glitches and error messages I’ve been reading about.

Even if healthcare.gov is working better now, I still wanted to talk to someone face to face. I like to shop, but shopping for health insurance isn’t like browsing online for Vans sneakers. I needed help — and not from an online chat.

Did I qualify for a federal subsidy, which is based on income and age? Should I get dental and vision on the plan, or should I purchase those separately? HMO or PPO? I wanted someone to make sure I selected what I wanted — and needed.

I called the South Carolina Blue Retail Center last Wednesday afternoon and had an appointment booked in less than two minutes. I received two reminder emails and, thankfully, no reminder voicemails.

After signing in for my appointment, I didn’t even have time to get comfortable looking out the window at holiday traffic before being greeted by Frank Buckner. It was his idea to play something other than Christmas music in the store.

Buckner, who didn’t know I was a writer, patiently walked me through the new health care territory. He gamely played along with my hypothetical scenarios, such as, “If I go get an X-ray, you’ll pay what percentage and I’ll pay what percentage?”

I learned what I was shopping for was a lower premium and higher deductible plan. After Buckner explained the benefits in various color-coded plans, I was admittedly still confused. I finally just asked, “What plan do you suggest for me?”

In less than an hour, I walked out with a Personal Blue plan. I should get my card by Friday, along with my first bill. Another Rihanna song, “Pour it Up,” played before I left.

“All I see is dollar signs,” I sang as I signed paperwork for my most expensive expenditure of the year after rent. My premium: $233 per month, with a $1,000 deductible.

It’s a gift to myself that, hopefully, I won’t have to use at all.

Several local organizations are helping individuals explore their health insurance options; visit localhelp.healthcare.gov to find local resources. For more information about the Affordable Care Act, visit kff.org/health-reform, schealthcarevoices.org or healthcare.gov.

Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

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