Tuesday’s opening of the Health Insurance Marketplace will finally provide some dollars, cents and concrete policy options to millions of uninsured Floridians.
But any excitement over opening day is muted. Ongoing political wrangling in Congress over a government shutdown and expected technical glitches are making the arrival of the online shopping site anything but smooth.
The commotion also is buoyed by a public that remains unclear about the Affordable Care Act and the marketplace, also known as the exchange. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Monday shows 51 percent of Americans say they don’t have enough information to understand how the controversial law affects them or their family.
The survey results haven’t improved in five months.
That might start changing Tuesday, as specific insurance plan benefits and costs are finally released on the marketplace, and appointments can begin across the state with trained “navigators,” application counselors and insurance brokers and agents. The long period of uncertainty has been frustrating, said Bill Mitchell, a veteran Tampa labor attorney.
“When people see the numbers, you will see a reaction,” said Mitchell, who has co-authored legal texts breaking down the Affordable Care Act and its mandate that nearly all Americans have health insurance by Jan. 1.
Several Tampa area navigator groups today will hold their first appointments with people wanting to shop on the marketplace, while others will continue speaking with uninsured residents about the exchange. An estimated 25 percent of Floridians are eligible for the exchange, designed for the uninsured and those who buy health plans on the individual market.
These appointments and the online exchange — at www.healthcare.gov — will operate in Florida regardless of a government shutdown. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contingency plans released late last week said “large portions” of activity tied to the Affordable Care Act would continue, including opening the marketplace.
In theory, individuals who register and provide age, income and where they live can see a side-by-side comparison of plans from approved commercial insurance carriers. Monthly premiums and specifics about out-of-pocket costs will be included.
Gary Cohen, deputy administrator and director of the Health and Human Services Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said in addition to costs, you should be able to access lists of doctors and health centers included in each of the plans. As many as 10 private insurance companies are offering plans in Florida. More than 100 should be available in the Tampa area market.
That could be overwhelming, Cohen said, as this may be the first time many of the state’s estimated 3.8 million uninsured individuals shop for coverage. Monthly premiums, co-pays and deductibles may be foreign concepts to many but essential to selecting health insurance.
Mitchell said individuals should do a lot of comparison shopping, and see if they are eligible for any discounts. The health law approved subsidies to eligible individuals earning between roughly $11,500 and $46,000. Breaks also are available for families of four earning up to about $94,000 a year.
“I think people should be thinking about if tax credits are available,” he said.
While the website will be up and running, individuals can expect some glitches, said Cohen.
“I don’t think it’s going to go perfectly,” Cohen said. The exchanges being run by the federal government in Florida and 35 other states.
Small business owners who had hoped to compare plans for their employees learned late last week they will have to wait. Cohen said applications on the Small Business Health Options Program exchange will now start in November.
Also, the Spanish-language marketplace remains incomplete. Cohen said www.CuidadodeSalud.gov will include detailed information for individuals, but they can’t fill out an online application. Those who want to apply in Spanish can wait a few weeks, or do the application over the phone or with a trained application assistant, said Julie Bataille, an HHS communications director.
She said no one loses out by waiting a few days to apply for the insurance. Officials actually expect most people to wait until closer to the March 31, 2014, deadline.
“People don’t come in all at once,” Bataille said. “They will come in when there’s a sense of urgency.”