Local providers: Health care launch off to a rough start
by Jason Lowrey
Oct 09, 2013 | 962 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
One week after the launch of the Affordable Healthcare Act — “Obamacare” — the Associated Press is reporting consumers across the nation are still having difficulties signing up for the health care exchange.

A recent article reported the government began emergency repairs on server systems for the healthcare.gov website some consumers must use to register and later search for an insurance plan on the marketplace. However, the AP also reported heavy traffic still clogged the website even a week after its launch, which led to additional emergency repairs on Tuesday, as server issues may have contributed to the long wait times as well.

Georgia residents must use the website to register and purchase plans as the state did not set up its own exchange, so all residents must go to the federal government.

Jean Linos, a Rome-based independent healthcare broker who has clients from Bartow County, said the delay in signing up was not affecting her customers even though they have been waiting for the marketplaces to go live.

“I’ve had people over the last year that I’ve done this [job, who] I could not write health insurance for. These people who were ready, willing and able to pay the premiums, but could not qualify because of pre-existing conditions,” Linos said after the website went live. “These are the people who are all racing back to me going, ‘Jane, it’s Oct. 1, when can I get my health insurance’ because that’s been my conversation with them, we’ve just got to make it ’til Oct. 1. ...

“Everybody’s been very understanding because this is something that they’ve wanted and they’ve needed. If they have to wait an extra week, they understand the policy isn’t going to start until Jan. 1. So they recognize that it’s not that we have to have it done right this second. They realize that we’ve got a window to work with, and all of my customers have been great about it so far.”

Linos explained the enrollment period for the healthcare exchanges runs until March 31, 2014. After that, anyone who has not enrolled will be forced to wait until the next year or have a qualifying life event, such as changed employment status or change in marital status.

Roberta Green, executive director of Bartow Health Access, said another problem would arise after customers managed to create an account on the website: a reduced selection of available plans.

“The other thing is that the exchanges haven’t fully signed up all the health insurance companies that are going to participate, and we’re finding more and more that where we thought this was going to be wide open — or we were told that this was going to be a wide-open marketplace with all kinds of choices for us — we’re finding more and more that health plans are choosing not to participate,” she said.

Green added some doctors have decided not to accept insurance plans offered through the new law, as they are concerned about being completely reimbursed for their services, among other concerns. Green also said she was concerned about the law’s effects on businesses. Higher insurance costs and the mandate for businesses to provide the coverage could cause employers to cut hours, making their employees underemployed.

“Employers are looking for a way to position themselves so they can still be profitable, so they can still keep their doors open, because this is having an impact on them,” she said.

However, Green and Linos agreed on the perceived benefits of the healthcare law: it does not exclude those with pre-existing conditions, it has lifetime benefits and children can be on their parents’ plans until they are 26 years old. The potential subsidies, Linos added, would be available to the 78 percent of people in Georgia who qualify. Those subsidies, she believed, would make the coverage affordable for those who might not be able to get health insurance any other way.

“To qualify for a subsidy your income has to be between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. If you’re below the federal poverty level, you don’t qualify for a subsidy and you may or may not qualify for Medicaid because Medicaid eligibility is so low here in Georgia — your income level,” Linos said.

The uninsured, and underinsured, concern Green as well. However, she believed BHA would begin seeing increased business as people reject the healthcare exchanges and decide to do without insurance.

“Because I work with the uninsured and underinsured, and to be honest with you, in Bartow County we have 42,000 people who are either uninsured or underinsured and we’re going to continue to see that number only increase,” Green said. “As the mandates for the businesses to have the employee policy in place, as people decide the premiums, the things they thought they were going to be able to afford through the exchange, or the coverage they thought they were going to be able to have that’s affordable, they’re just going to choose to pay the $95 or whatever their family penalty is. We’ll continue to see in Bartow County especially, I believe, an increase in [the] uninsured.”

Linos hoped those looking at the online exchanges would contact herself or other health insurance brokers so they could make an informed decision.

“There’s things that can be confusing. The deductibles, the co-insurance, if bad things happen, what’s my maximum out of pocket exposure? What’s going to happen to me? Sixty-two percent of bankruptcy in this country is because of medical bills and 75 percent of those people had health insurance, but they hadn’t planned on actually having to have the money to pay the deductible if something bad happens,” she said.

From BHA’s standpoint, Green said she wanted people to take care of their health first and seek out medical care even if they do not have insurance.

“We hope people aren’t sitting and saying, ‘Well, I’m going to wait and take care of my diabetes in January when I get my insurance.’ Your health can’t wait,” she said. “We want people to know they have an option and at least being able to come, participate in their health care and be part of Bartow Health Access.”