The Decision

This post provides the conclusion of a difficult decision I faced last week to accept or reject free health care from the state. The social worker said there was nothing they could do and there were no alternatives. I must accept free health care or reject it and buy private insurance on my own at an enormous cost.  If you haven’t read the story, you can find it here: 

After all the tension to this point, the conclusion to the drama is anticlimactic. The decision turned out to be no decision.

As I wrestled with what to do, something didn’t feel right. So I googled income limits for Medical Assistance. When the chart appeared on my screen, there was no doubt. I don’t qualify for free health care. It’s not even close. My taxable income is several thousand dollars too high. I should have never received the mysterious packet in the mail. It was a system failure.

I’ve been back to the county office twice trying to fix this. System errors can be hard to reverse. There will be some red tape. I think we’ll be able to get off Medical Assistance. But it’s not as easy as you might expect, even when we haven’t actually received any medical assistance.

This little unexpected episode touched me in a tender place. It hurt. Part of it came from a feeling of powerlessness. I’m not used to being on the other side of the desk. Part of it was trauma from the welfare trap. Dependency is destructive. And part of it was a determination not to abuse a system which has been favorable toward me for a long time.

Pastors have a wonderful tax advantage because our compensation can be divided into two portions, a taxable salary and a nontaxable housing allowance. Medical Assistance is determined only by the taxable portion of our income. The nontaxable housing allowance isn’t taken into account at all. That makes our income appear much smaller than it really is. I appreciate the tax break provided by the housing allowance, but I believe it would be unethical to use it to gain free medical care when we don’t need it. We clearly don’t qualify for Medical Assistance the way the program was intended–as help for those who really need it. To receive it would be abusing the system.

In the end, it was all about a system error and doing the right thing. Kind of boring, isn’t it? Funny, it wasn’t boring to me when I was in the middle of it.