With Portions of Obamacare Set to Begin, Questions Remain

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Sep. 2, 2013 12:00 am  

Oct. 1, a Tuesday, is barely four weeks away, and it will mark one of the biggest changes in the history of health insurance in the United States.

On that day, open enrollment begins in the Health Insurance Marketplace, a central feature of the controversial Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act that has survived scrutiny by the U.S. Supreme Court and literally scores of repeal attempts by Republicans.

The marketplace, accessible online or by telephone, is where individual Americans will be able to buy health insurance policies that take effect Jan. 1 or after. With the arrival of 2014, having health insurance will be required by federal law: People who don’t secure insurance will, theoretically, face a penalty that starts at $95 next year and increases to $695 in 2016.

As of last week, though, there were still several unanswered questions surrounding the ACA, including the price of buying insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace for Arkansas. The price information is expected to be released this week, said Cynthia Crone, deputy commissioner of the Arkansas Insurance Department and director of the Arkansas Health Connector division, which oversees the state-specific marketplace.

But she did telegraph some encouragement: “I think people will be pleasantly surprised by how affordable it will be,” she said, especially for the majority of Arkansans who are eligible for tax credits to help offset the cost.

Here’s another question: Will the marketplace work as intended come Oct. 1?

The marketplace website is designed to be easy. The applicant will answer a few questions such as age, place of residence and use of tobacco products, and the online database will immediately generate plans and rates from different insurance companies.

If the questionnaire seems streamlined, it’s because the kind of questions that health insurers traditionally asked will no longer be allowed. For policies that take effect Jan. 1 and after, carriers won’t be able to deny people coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Still, “nothing this big has ever gone completely 100 percent smooth on Day One,” Crone said. “So I think there will be some glitches, but we’re doing everything we can to make it as smooth as an experience as we can.”

Meanwhile, Arkansas legislators are concerned about funding the second wave of an advertising campaign designed to encourage people to sign up for insurance through the marketplace. The review subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council hasn’t yet approved $5.1 million in federal funds that would be used to spread the word about the marketplace in Arkansas.

“The whole premise behind the private option” — Arkansas’ unique approach to the expansion of Medicaid anticipated under the ACA — “was we would allow the markets to work as much as possible,” said state Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, who is the president pro tempore-elect of the Senate and on the committee.

He would rather see the advertising paid for by the insurance companies that have signed up to sell insurance policies through the marketplace.



Please read our comments policy before commenting.