We’ve received calls from many consumers about Charter Oak – and it is a good option for some. However yesterday we got a troubling call on our Consumer Helpline (888) 873-4585. Leslie Dmowski called the Charter Oak application number to find out how to apply. She was injured in a car accident and can no longer work. She has applied for disability and is now paying for COBRA – a considerable burden on her family when she is without an income. When she called Charter Oak, she was told she was not eligible because she has insurance coverage. She was told nothing about the financial hardship exception. DSS has stated that if someone is now paying 10% or more of their income for health coverage, they do not have to drop coverage for six months to qualify for Charter Oak. Leslie is paying over 20% of her family’s income for coverage. Thankfully she called us, told her about the financial hardship exception, and sent her an application.
She also waited a long time on the phone after calling Charter Oak and got lost in the phone tree before she spoke to an actual person who was rushed and not helpful. She wanted to make sure that callers know not to press any numbers at the phone prompts to get a real person.
Leslie’s troubles point out a common problem with translating policies to the real world. We at the CT Health Policy Project have been very concerned about the six month uninsured requirement for Charter Oak – we feel it is unfair to people like Leslie who are sacrificing to pay for coverage now and it is bad public policy – excluding those who need health care is an odd way to build a health care program. We advocated with DSS and the legislature to remove the six month exclusion. Policymakers decided not to change it, but assured us that there would be generous exceptions. However it really doesn’t matter how fair the policies are on paper when they don’t get translated to the real world Leslie and her family live in. Advocates have to be especially vigilant – our job is only starting when we get policies passed in Hartford. And policymakers should be realistic when designing programs.