Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
“I knew Covered California would face enormous challenges in getting these people coverage effective the New Year, and I knew they weren’t being honest about it. The best way to fight a lack of transparency would be to publicly expose their actions (and character flaws) for all to see, by writing a postscript to my soon-to-be released book. But I knew nothing about being a whistleblower. And given my confidentiality agreement, I could run the risk of putting myself in legal jeopardy for doing so.”
~ Aiden Hill in The Midnight Stranglers
Many who waded into insurance reform in California last year slipped into the deep haze of a nightmare as the State’s website bogged down, on-screen application templates imploded and telephone wait times went on for hours.
Are you one of the folks who incurred nothing but pain from a system that was supposed to take the pain away from buying medical insurance? And do you still want to know why nobody answered the phone when you called? If you can answer ‘yes’ to either of these questions, then you should read The Midnight Stranglers by Aiden Hill.
Hill is definitely one of the guys who should know why things didn’t work as advertised: he served as Project Manager for Covered California from March through September of 2013, charged with orchestrating the call center’s roll out.*
The Midnight Stranglers is a well written ride across the modern landscape of healthcare in America. It begins as a chronicle into the details of Hill’s life as he seeks treatment for severe sleep apnea. Along the way, he encounters the one question that keeps so many middle-aged Americans awake at night: the company just dropped my insurance, now what he hell do I do?
But make no mistake, The Midnight Stranglers isn’t some worn and tired ‘this is what happened to me at the hospital’ rambling. Instead, this intimate portrait of one man’s medical nightmare adeptly segues into the nation’s collective journey – first into the Affordable Care Act, and then into the wanton chaos at Covered California, where an overburdened system struggled to perform in the face of increased public scrutiny.
And Hill writes:
“Covered California had hoped to keep the website problems under wraps, hand-keying applications with no one the wiser. But the paper applications didn’t match the website interface, making the re-keying effort incredibly cumbersome (45 minutes per application). Recognizing that thousands of consumers wouldn’t be able to use their insurance come January 1, Covered California had to come clean, acknowledging they were only processing customer requests flowing through the call center. Other application sources had been orphaned.”
Hill is treading very some dangerous ground here: he was working on the inside and he saw what was really going on. He had his hand in the pot and was trying to keep the soup from over-boiling all over everyone’s shoe-tops. But as you make your make your way through this compelling reportage, you sense that Hill’s conscience might have gotten the best of him. And he writes:
“Right after I left Covered California in mid-August, I swore that I would not write about my experience there (partly to avoid coming off as bitter, and partly because they had threatened to take legal action against me if I violated my confidentiality agreement with them). But as I began to watch the roll out and listen to the untruths being perpetrated, I could barely contain myself. During the earlier debates over Obamacare, I had dismissed the conservative critics’ “socialized medicine” label. What we were now getting through the health care exchanges, however, was beginning to appear more and more like the product of Soviet Style centralized planning. And based on my recent personal experience, the people running the show up at Covered California were increasingly mirroring the Stalinist propagandists who trumpeted phony agricultural production numbers while their populations starved.”
I think the second edition of The Midnight Stranglers should cause everyone who purchased a Covered California policy – either out of absolute need or to avoid the mandatory 1% tax penalty for non-compliance – to ask if they’ve been misled. Moreover, the claims Hill made in front of the Covered California Board of Directors on February 19, 2014 alleging mismanagement at the exchange (as seen in this You Tube video) should give taxpayers of every age and demographic pause.
Aiden Hill has gone public with his story. Answers to address the questions he’s raised on behalf of all Californians should now be forthcoming from Sacramento.
*For a summary of the of the kinds of problems that consumers encountered during Covered California’s rookie season, see these articles I published in the San Francisco Chronicle which expose my own experience: