“I grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the Toulumne Cherokee reservation. I’m Cherokee-Chickasaw. I came to Oregon fourteen years ago, following the woman I loved.”
Gary makes and sells beaded necklaces. He teaches Kung Fu and is excited to (safely) demonstrate kicks and holds on the nearest willing participant.
Something I don’t learn about him until thirty minutes into our conversation, and something almost none of our staff who worked with him had known, is that Gary is a “BKA.”
“Do you know what that means?” he asks, slow smile creasing his face. “It stands for ‘below the knee amputee.'” Pulling up his left pant leg, he reveals the prosthetic he says he helped design in order to minimally impact his martial arts practices. He is pleased that none of us knew this about him and takes pride in the craftsmanship of his prosthesis, just as he takes pride in the beaded necklace he made and gave to our staff as a “thank you” present. He clearly likes making things.
“What I don’t like is boundaries,” he says. “Obstacles. Things that keep me from living my life.”
Gary explains that one obstacle he felt particularly frustrated by was how a recent fluctuation in his income had put him just barely above the maximum income allowance to qualify for health insurance through the Oregon Health Plan, meaning he was legally obligated to buy insurance from the Marketplace. Except the only plans he could afford required premiums his daily budget couldn’t accommodate, putting access to all but emergent care out of his reach.
“The only thing I was buying was a piece of paper,” he said, “to satisfy bureaucracy. And bureaucracy makes me frustrated. And angry. But then I met [Project Access NOW Outreach, Enrollment and Access assister] Sean at the DHS office and he told me about your Premium Assistance program. So now I’m not angry anymore.”
Through our Premium Assistance program, Project Access NOW leverages tax credits and cost-sharing reductions available to participants to pay the balance on the premiums for the Marketplace medical plans our clients select. Sean and others helped Gary file paperwork documenting his recent income changes and told him, thanks to recent expansions to our Premium Assistance program’s income qualifications, he now qualified for help paying his insurance premiums.
“It’s hard making sense of this stuff if you haven’t studied it, like [Project Access NOW staff] Sean and Linzay and Ranisha here have…you all shared what you knew and helped me, made me feel like a human being again. Now I just pay a copay to go to the doctor and I don’t have to worry about my premiums.
“This is what solutions look like,” says Gary, familiar smile creasing his face, “I’m not stressed or worried about bureaucracy or health insurance. I can get up in the morning, focus on the important things, and live my life. I thank Project Access NOW for making that happen.”