The agent knocked on the door and moments later he was greeted by “the prospect.”
The prospect was built like a pit bull and could have passed for Mike Tyson’s older brother.
He wasn’t 65+ like most prospects and the agent and I knew we had a different situation on our hands — even the best fact finding over the phone didn’t prepare us for what was next.
We were in an established area of Mesa, a low-income living community, and the prospect welcomed my colleague and I in his home with enthusiasm. He seemed genuinely happy at the idea that he could visit with someone to get clarity on a few questions he had about medicare. He also felt special that he could provide someone with hospitality for a bit of time.
His home was paradoxically organized. The air smelled like a mix of stale carpet plus vinyl flooring and some sort of chemical fragrance that suggested he tried to clean some surfaces. It felt as if we were in an old school fitness center.
The kitchen sink was clean as a whistle, a few dishes neatly organized, but the living room was cluttered. He had us sit at the table which felt like he worked hard to prepare knowing he would be expecting company.
The agent and I noticed a curious amount of refrigerator magnets with notes hanging from them. They were categorized and seemed to have a timeline about them.
The agent was a little nervous, but we had to show confidence. Reading the room, I spoke first. Upon my fourth point about “wanting to help” him, the man began to twitch and stutter.
He became frustrated with his stuttering as he wanted to share something that was very important to him. Conceding to his condition he stood up abruptly, and went to a cabinet in the kitchen. Behind the cabinet door was a plastic tub. He pulled it out from the cabinet and set it on the table in front of us. The tub was less than a foot tall, similarly wide and about just under a foot in length, and it was full of prescription bottles. If I recall correctly it was 4 rows by 5 of prescription bottles.
The twitching subsided after the man observed that the agent and I did not act in any sort of way that made him self-conscious. While outwardly we didn’t show much emotion or hesitation, we were scared.
We didn’t know what we were dealing with, and we couldn’t be sure if we would somehow trigger something for this man that we couldn’t recover from, but we also wanted him to get the solutions he needed.
The man began to tell us about a book he just finished writing on the stigma of schizophrenia. His demeanor changed, the stutter went away, he spoke lucidly and carried on with a street level lexicon about mental illness in a way that would never be accepted in any mainstream publication nor academic circle, but we understood him and we listened.
He briefly shared how the illness manifests itself for him and as he spoke, we needed redirect the conversation to talk about his medicare benefits. The agent kindly interrupted and affirmed the exciting achievement of getting a book published with a sincere smile on his face. The man paused and we could clearly see a sense of accomplishment and joy.
Would there ever be anyone else that would do this for him?
We got into the hard work. I looked up prescription prices while the agent kept an awkward dialogue seamlessly alive. Soon we arrived at the three things the man needed help with.
First up was getting his Medicaid entitlements up to date which was no small feat. Next was changing his health plan so that we could literally put $42/month back in his pocket until the Medicaid portion kicked in for him. Third was making sure that we asked him for a signed copy of his book to remain compliant.
An hour and a half later, like clockwork, the man remembered something about his schedule and he quickly asked us to wrap things up so that he didn’t miss a medication routine.
We still had disclaimers to read to him, but he became intensely anxious and could see him working really hard to hold himself back from some sort of panic or other expression.
I’ll never forget catching his forearm muscle flex as he clinched a napkin. I jumped in, we wrapped up the conversation and we knew our time was up. I stood up from the table, the prospect, now “client” began to share some dark thoughts he was recently struggling with and yet how appreciative he was that he got to tell us about his book.
With tears in his eyes, he mentioned that he hoped one day he could help others living with the stigma of schizophrenia.
I tell this story to honor the man and to raise awareness. Many living with mental illness are marginalized and it is heartbreaking.
Some are out there trying to find solutions for people who are ostracized by society. I happen to be fortunate enough to see some of it first hand and write about it on occasion to keep the value and voice alive for independent field brokers.
There are thousands of more stories out there, like this one, and it’s important to showcase this work as invaluable to the health system.
Medicare brokers spend countless hours working through complexities similar to this and yet there is little to no training for it.
They show up, adapt on the fly, and they excel at it because they care. Insurance carriers do their best to bring real value and service for these populations, but their value proposition falls on deaf ears if delivered without these best in class professionals.
At the end of the day the agent gets an occasional pat on the back for the enrollment gained, but little affirmation is added to the amazing work only they could have done.