Dodging health care red tape—from navigating COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) to filing for prescription antiretroviral drug reimbursements to handling disability paperwork—can become a full-time job. But with the proper mind-set, it needn’t be debilitating. “[Many HIV-positive people] are led to believe that no one wants to give them anything and that everything is a trap to [exclude] them,” says Jacques Chambers, an L.A.-based benefits consultant and counselor who consults for AIDS Project Los Angeles. That attitude can be dangerously self-defeating—and keep you from discovering crucial reimbursement benefits and loopholes. Chambers filled us in on some of the biggest paperwork concerns that his clients face—and some organizational and planning advice to help you tackle them.

Remember that insurance forms are not a test. Chambers says that many of his clients get stressed and worry that they will make a mistake when filling out their medical forms. Don’t spend time stressing over whether or not your insurance company is trying to trip you up; instead, focus on presenting a clear picture of your situation to make sure you receive the best coverage possible.

You don’t have to fit your entire life story onto two lines. Many forms will ask for detailed explanations of your disability or your medication regimen—and provide only a small amount of space to respond. You don’t have to squeeze it all in: “[It’s OK] if you want to say ‘see attached’ and write two pages,”
says Chambers.

Make lists, timelines and calendars. Be proactive; add application file dates to your daily calendar for your records and always follow up on claims. “If you mail something to social security, four days later call them and ask [if they] got it,’” says Chambers.

When applying for disability, think about what symptoms you may be ignoring. “People living with HIV, who have often dealt with it for many years, must spend some time thinking about their symptoms,” Chambers says. “They [may] have a bunch of things they’ve made accommodations for, or have been encouraged to look beyond, forgetting they were symptoms.”

Get help! If you need help filling out your paperwork, contact your local AIDS service organization. Many groups have counseling and consulting services, much like those at AIDS Project Los Angeles, to assist HIV-positive people with obtaining benefits. Also, if you have social security and dis-ability insurance, your insur-ance company might foot the bill for a consultant’s fee. And remember: While message boards are a good place to find support and talk to other people who might be facing similar insurance issues, much of the in-formation online has not been verified; consider confirming the info with another source.