Funny story: a little over a year ago, my small buttercup of a son got kicked off Medi-Cal. He was, Medi-Cal said, just too darn rich, not because of my middle-class income but because of the Social Security survivor's benefits he receives every month because his first mom kicked the bucket when he was just a wee small buttercup of a baby. The fact that he'd had Medi-Cal for at least 10 years, was placed in my home by the Department of Children andFamily Services, and has long-term health conditions didn't seem to concern the state of California. He would henceforth have a "share of cost" of $200 a month out of his princely $900 benefits. Well, I think you can imagine how I reacted to that.
Eventually, and after many hours on the telephone, and only with the help of OC SupervisorBill Campbell's chief of staff (because it's only fair that those with the most connections and resources to begin with get the most help), it was determined that we'd cancel the Medi-Cal and my boy could apply for Healthy Families, the low-cost insurance for California's poor. I pissed and moaned about it—it meant going to the Social Security office to get proof of my son's income, which ranks low on my scale of personal fun, and they denied the application based on the fact that his mother hadn't signed it, which would have been difficult because she's dead. But once we got past the Joseph Heller plot points, I was pleased enough. I paid $7 or $12 a month or something, and my boy could see an otolaryngologist any time he got the yen.
So here's the first punch line: after a year, when it was time to re-up (with the concomitant visit to the Social Security office and its garden of earthly delights), I was told my boy was no longer eligible for Healthy Families because he had . . . Medi-Cal.
"No, he doesn't!" I explained.
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"It's in the computer that he does," said the nice Healthy Families lady on my phone.
I called the Medi-Cal lady, Ms. L. "Oh," said Ms. L. "Didn't you get the notice I sent you a year ago?"
Well, no, I didn't, because you're a dirty liar!
"Yes," she continued, "I double-checked, and your son has had Medi-Cal this whole time. They had figured his eligibility wrong; they were supposed to count you as a family of two, but still use only his income."
Gosh, that doesn't sound right! Are you sure?
"Oh, yes, I'm sure," Ms. L. said. "Go ahead and cancel the Healthy Families; your son has Medi-Cal."
And so I canceled Healthy Families.
Who knew I was so very dumb?
Punch line No. 2: So all this month, I've been receiving packets from Medi-Cal—choose a doctor! Choose a plan! (Which I clearly would have gotten a year ago if Ms. L. hadn't been lying like Scooter Libbyunder oath.) Until Saturday, when I received—wait for it—a Notice of Termination of Medi-Cal!
Why? Well, it answered that question right there on the letter: "Here's why: Your income is over the limit."
And whose name appeared at the top? Ms. L.'s!
It's funny because it's true!
Guess who hasn't been answering her phone this week?
* * *
Now. Let's say that I wasn't me and that I hadn't just called the offices of state Senator Joe Dunn, Assemblyman Tom Umberg, Supervisor Chris Norby, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez and local GOP fixer Mike Schroeder (Schroeder was just for kicks), inviting each of them to participate in a contest I like to call "Which of You Guys Can Get This Fixed for Me First to Prove Once and for All Who's Got the Most Juice?" Let's say I wasn't the kind of girl who could get yummy communist state Senator Gil Cedillo to pick up his cell phone on a Saturday, fresh from yet another immigrant rally (those immigrants got on their marching shoes!), and offer to get one of his staffers to call the state. Let's say I was . . . poor, like most of the people these programs are supposed to help. I wouldn't even have to be Walker Evans poor, in an electric-less shack with corpsy little childrens; let's say I was just a lady with an hourly wage, and I had to take a bus to the Social Security office to pick up my proof of income; and then I had to take another one the next day, because that's the way the Social Security office always turns out; and I missed two days' work and got fired. In fact, let's skip the Social Security office and the me-firing. Let's just say I had to take the bus at all. I remember I had to use a pay phone once, when I was in Austin for South by Southwest and my cell phone ran out of batteries right when I was speaking to my son even though I'd been charging it all night and so I threw it on the ground and smashed it into a million little pieces. A pay phone! Now let's picture me on a bus. Sweet Jesus, can you imagine?
Within minutes I had my first calls back, and within a couple of hours, I had diligent staffers checking in with updates. Loretta from Joe Dunn's office wins the Constituent Services Derbyby a mile, having already spoken with a district director of social services—and slipped me her direct line—while Lucy from Tom Umberg's office took second place, ringing in for more info just after Loretta had cracked the code. (Supervisor Lou Correa, who'd been brought into the mission by Congresswoman Sanchez's chief of staff in an A-Team/coalition of the willing task force, gets honorable mention for calling me himself to check in.) The district director was a kindly woman who called me back within moments and had the grace to sound embarrassed and exhausted by the sheer stupidity of it all. It appears my boy can keep his Medi-Cal—it looks like—for at least another two months. And then he'll just have him another re-determination, at which point, because of his vast monthly riches, he'll have a share of cost. The best we can figure is $200 a month. And then he'll be eligible for Healthy Families again! I'm already all a-tingle for my date with the Social Security office. Good times!
* * *
I'd been out Friday night with one of my bestest friends, checking out the delicious jailbait at the Placentia bowling alley Concourse and then moving on to the debauchees at our own beloved Canyon Inn. When I got home at 1:38 a.m., I flipped on Oprah, and boy was she pissed! Her guests were low-wage workers who after 40 hours a week are still living in poverty, along with a lady from the UFCW, and Oprah was listening to their stories with all five stages of grief.
"Why aren't people doing something about this?" Oprah roared, and I'm here to tell you, she was testifying! Oh, Oprah, don't you understand that, as the Young Republicans at UC Irvine so helpfully explained, raising the minimum wage takes food out of people's mouths? Didn't you know that up is down? And didn't you know that there are agencies out there to help all the lazy, ungrateful poor—it's just that with all that forensic budget accounting the Gub's been doing, people are getting axed right and left for technicalities so's we can shrink the rolls?
It was so funny, after Katrina—and Oprah was on a tear about that too!—that the only excuse Bush apologists could come up with was a pious "That's why you shouldn't trust government." No, we shouldn't trust this government, which they're purposely trying to break so we'll no longer trust it! When I get food poisoning, I don't stop eating food; I stop eating sweet and sour pork from the restaurant that done me wrong. Before the Right espoused shrinking government ("so small we could drown it in a bathtub," as W. adviser Grover Norquist chortled while rubbing his hands in the warmth of a well-lighted orphan), we believed as a nation in Locke's social contract. We believed that old people deserved dignity over Meow Mix, and we all chipped in to help. Before Social Security, fully two-thirds of seniors lived under the poverty line, while today just 16 percent do. I'd say that's even worth a Social Security office social call!
But Bush's family still calls FDR "that man," and even those big-eyed orphan waifs can no longer count on the sympathy vote (especially if their mamas were Mexican).
If anybody can get this country turned around, Oprah can. Until then, you got a problem, you call up Joe Dunn. He's from the government, and he's here to help.
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