PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday October 2nd, 2013, 11:18am

Health Care Advocates Celebrate The Launch Of Illinois' Health Insurance Marketplace

Tuesday was a big day for Illinoisans, and Americans across the country, without health coverage who were able to start comparison shopping on the new statewide health insurance exchanges, one of the key aspects of the Affordable Care Act.

Tuesday was a big day for Illinoisans, and Americans across the country, without health coverage who were able to start comparison shopping on the new statewide health insurance exchanges, one of the key aspects of the Affordable Care Act.

Illinois' health insurance marketplace, called "Get Covered Illinois", and other exchanges across the country, launched Tuesday despite the first government shutdown in 17 years.

Congress needed to pass a continuing resolution to temporarily fund the government by the end of Monday in order to avoid a shutdown. House Republicans, however, have been adamant about sending a continuing resolution to the Senate that includes language to either defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, a move that has been a non-starter in the upper chamber. 

As expected, the Senate voted Tuesday to reject the House's request for conference on the matter. The GOP-led House then tried to pass small continuing resolutions that would fund some of parts of the government that have temporarily closed, but that attempt failed.

House Republicans' decision to shutdown the government "over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans" would have no impact on the health reform law, President Barack Obama said during remarks made Tuesday in the White House Rose Garden. The Affordable Care Act is "open for business" and it's "here to stay," the president added.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most Americans are required to have health insurance or face a fine. People have to enroll for coverage by the end of March to avoid penalties. Those who want their coverage to start January 1 have to enroll by no later than December 15.

Some 1.8 million Illinoisans are uninsured, and state officials hope to have at least 300,000 people enrolled by the end of March.

Overall, there were some hiccups in the first day of the federal and state-run marketplaces. The official federal exchange website, being used by 34 states including Illinois, which has a state-federal partnership, experienced some technical issues Tuesday morning due to heavy site traffic. Users were dealt with error messages, among other technical difficulties. Some health insurance exchange call centers also reported 15- to 20-minute waits, said Jim Duffett, executive director of the Campaign for Better Health Care, on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

Technical glitches aside, Duffett called the opening of the marketplaces a "historic day" in the fight for affordable health care.

Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, which is a strong opponent of the Affordable Care Act, did not share the same sentiment. He made note of the problems that came with the launch, writing in a statement that "Americans are seeing the future of government-run health care."

"There are hundreds, if not thousands, of so-called 'glitches' throughout the country including numerous delays, a failing website, no website in Spanish, and no verification of income," he wrote. "We're supposed to trust navigators who are given no background checks, yet can view the personal income information of millions of Americans. Add to that the diminished choice of doctors, rising premiums, and many new taxes, and we're just beginning to see the real impact of ObamaCare."

Duffett noted that Illinois' marketplace landing website, GetCoveredIllinois.gov, ran smoothly on its first day, though people did report problems with accessing insurance plans once directed to the federal site. Illinois' enrollment portal for Medicaid, nutrition and income assistance, which users can be directed to from GetCoveredIllinois.com, was running without problems, he said.

Many of the issues will be fixed soon, Duffett said, adding that enrollment would greatly expand come November once all the bugs are fixed. December is also expected to be a big month for enrollment as it gets closer to the deadline to enroll for the January 1 start date.

State officials said they are waiting for all the glitches to be worked out before a good chunk of a $33 million marketing campaign for the marketplace, including radio and TV ads, is launched across Illinois.

In a statement, Gov. Pat Quinn acknowledged "there may be bumps along the way," but added that Tuesday marked a "turning point in our nation and the state as we strive to provide decent health care to all."

Quinn stressed that state's new health insurance marketplace "will make health care more affordable than ever for those who need it."

Illinoisans have at least 34 insurance plans from which to choose, with 165 more options to be added upon approval. All plans available through the marketplace cover doctor visits, hospital stays, maternity care, emergency room visits, mental health services, chronic disease management, prescriptions and other benefits. No one can be denied insurance coverage if they are sick or have a pre-existing condition. Preventive care is also covered under the plans at no additional cost to the patient.

Monthly rates for one of the cheapest plans in the Illinois marketplace costs a 25-year-old nonsmoker $120 in Chicago or $128 in Peoria, for example, with the rates going up slightly for older adults. Smokers have to pay a bit more for coverage in the marketplace. A 25-year-old Chicago smoker, for example, would pay a $132 monthly premium for the most affordable plan.

Subsidies are available on a sliding scale to help pay for health coverage bought through the marketplace. Those eligible for a subsidy include individuals and families with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $45,000 for a single person and $95,000 for a family of four.

According to the governor's office, plans are available via the marketplace from eight insurers including: Aetna Life Insurance Company; Coventry Health and Life Insurance Company; Coventry Health Care of Illinois, Inc.; Health Alliance Medical Plans, Inc.; Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company (Blue Cross); Humana Health Plan, Inc.; Humana Insurance Company; and Land of Lincoln Mutual Health Insurance Company.

In order for premiums to stay low, which helps the law succeed, it is important for young, healthy people to enroll.

But Generation Opportunity, a youth advocacy group supported by Charles and David Koch, is continuing its push to educate young people about their "options," including their ability to "opt out of ObamaCare by paying a relatively small penalty." The group says another option is for young people to buy a non-Obamacare plan on the private market.

The penalty, by the way, for not having health insurance under the Affordable Care Act for the first year is $95, or 1 percent of taxable income, whichever is larger. The fine will grow in subsequent years.

“We want all young people to have health insurance and purchase a plan that is right for them, not one that pays the bills at the Department of Health and Human Services," Generation Opportunity's president Evan Feinberg said in a statement. “Our campaign is clearly aggravating the politicians and special interests who need my generation to buy creepy ObamaCare insurance at three times the price in order to subsidize an older, wealthier generation."

The campaign Feinberg is referring to recently tapped into the notion of "creepy ObamaCare" with two video ads that include a bizarre-looking Uncle Sam performing a pap smear and rectal exam.

“My generation is tired of getting a raw deal from the powerful in Washington, D.C.," Feinberg continued. "We are already inheriting massive debt and suffering 16 percent unemployment and are not going to accept another bad deal from the government. We realize that buying private insurance is cheaper and smarter than drinking the ObamaCare Kool-Aid regardless of which celebrity they get to promote it."

But regardless of the campaign, Duffett said a majority of young people do want health insurance, and he believes many of them will take advantage of the marketplaces.

"Twenty-five year-olds, 30 year-olds, 50 year-olds, we're all in this together, and by having a larger pool of people getting insurance, it definitely helps spread the cost out," Duffett stressed.

In the end, Affordable Care Act opponents aren't going to stop making up lies about ObamaCare anytime soon, Duffett said. But what the critics need to keep in mind, he added, is that even before the marketplaces launched, people were already benefiting from the health reform law, including millions of children who have not been denied coverage because of pre-exsisting conditions and young adults who can stay on their parents' insurance until the age of 26, to name a few examples.

"One thing that cannot be refuted are the successful stories of hardworking Americans," Duffett said.


Login or register to post comments

Recent content