Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

October 1, 2013

New national healthcare policies take effect today

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — After nearly a 3 1/2-year wait, Americans can begin browsing today for a healthcare plan that meets their needs through a Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act initiated by President Barack Obama in 2010.

Designed to provide coverage for those who are uninsured or whose employers do not offer health insurance – a number estimated at nearly 50 million U.S. residents, according to figures reported by the Associated Press – under this innovative comprehensive program, a person can choose from four types of policies that best suit their needs, through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Once enrolled, coverage can begin as early as the beginning of the year.

In places like Cherokee County – where an estimated 31 percent of residents under age 65 have no health insurance, according to findings posted in countyhealthrankings.org – “Obamacare,” as it's better known, can have a positive impact.

Meanwhile, organizations like Cherokee County Public Health and the Alto Ecomonic Development Corpora-tion are working hard to provide free or no-cost clinics and services to meet the needs of the local population, such as drive-flu clinics and the  Alto Health For All health fairs that brings together a number of health-care providers each month to give out information and provide services.

However, as positive a measure as ACA may be, a central question remains: How affordable will the government-endorsed plans actually be?

A recent Forbes magazine report pointed out that “though the Obama administration touted lower-than-expected premiums for individuals (who) shop for health benefits, consumers also will see high out-of-pocket expenses, a parade of states and study of those costs show.”

In an interview with Caroline Pearson, vice president of Avalere Health – a research and advisory services firm on health policy issues tracking ACA – Pearson said that “consumers will need to balance lower monthly premiums against the potential for unpredictable, expensive out-of-pocket costs in plans with higher deductibles.”

According to an Associated Press report, “a government shutdown could dampen the rollout Tuesday … (b)ut it won't stop the main components of 'Obamacare' from going live as scheduled, glitches and all,” with consumers' main concerns focused on whether they “can afford the premiums, if the coverage will be solid, where bureaucratic pitfalls are and if new federal and state websites will really demystify shopping for health insurance.

“Full answers may take months,” according to the AP, which pointed out that “earlier, the federal government announced delays for small business and Spanish-language sign-ups … (a) protracted government shutdown could slow needed technology fixes.”

Individuals can sign up for coverage under the ACA as late as Dec. 15, and can utilize sites like www.HealthCare.gov to learn which plan best suits their needs.

By entering pertinent information about state of residence, age, gender, insurance status, income level, household size, a viewer will learn what Health Insurance Marketplace plan best suits his or her needs, plus receive information on certain topics (such as dependents under age 18 or pre-existing condition) that has been requested.

“After you complete the questions you will get a page of results that includes: A list of health coverage options you may qualify for; links to content that will help you make informed decisions; a personalized checklist to help you get ready to apply,” according to the HealthCare.gov site, which also runs the disclaimer, “this is not the application for the Health Insurance Marketplace.”