Oct. 31, 2017
By: Betty Lin-Fisher – Kaye Rootring says she and her college-age daughter won’t go without insurance.
But Rootring of Perry Township is unsure how much more her current $462.80 monthly premium costs will be when she starts shopping this week for plans available through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace. The plans were created through the Affordable Care Act, also known as ACA or Obamacare.
Rootring and other consumers are facing higher costs this year and other challenges as cuts to programming by the Trump administration and changes upheld as recently as last week will increase health-care costs for consumers.
About 12 million Americans, including 238,843 Ohioans, are enrolled in Affordable Care Act plans, which are available for those without health insurance through a job, Medicare, Medicaid or other source.
Under the ACA, most Americans are required to carry health insurance or face a potential financial penalty when they file their taxes.
The program has become a hot political issue while advocates say health-care needs for consumers are being lost in the shuffle.
In a study released last week by consulting firm Avalere Health, premiums for the most popular plans are going up an average of 34 percent, based on a review of plans for coverage beginning Jan. 1.
Rootring, 62, said her insurance costs for her family of three used to be $550 per month when she was still working.
Her husband now is covered by Medicare.
For Rootring, going without insurance is not an option.
“Whatever those people in Washington do, I have no control over it,” Rootring said. Without insurance, “you’re just tempting fate and something awful to happen.”
Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act plans begins Wednesday, Nov. 1, and lasts through Dec. 15.
Changes in D.C.
The time frame for this year’s open-enrollment period has been cut in half, compared to the time allotted under President Barack Obama’s administration.
Sign-up season comes after President Donald Trump canceled federal payments that reimburse insurers for reduced copays and deductibles they’re required to provide to people of modest means.
The canceled payments, or subsidies, were upheld Wednesday by a federal judge, who denied a request by state attorneys general to order the payments immediately restored.
Some critics of the Affordable Care Act are glad about the changes.
Show of support
Tom Nunley, a self-employed sales broker from Springfield Township, blames the ACA for steady increases to his private insurance.
“I have watched my premiums go from the $400/month range to nearly $1200/month range for $5000/$10000 coverage from 2012 to 2017,” Nunley commented in a recent Beacon Journal Facebook post. “The ACA was the driver behind this increase. I am happy that the Trump administration has ended subsidies and opened up competition across state lines. Also allowing us to join or (form) groups will be a big help.”
Earlier in September, the Trump administration also announced sharp cuts, including cutting $90 million from the $100 million budget for advertising for open enrollment.
The website (https://www.healthcare.gov) to shop and enroll for plans will be shut down for maintenance for 12 hours nearly every Sunday — from midnight to noon — during the open-enrollment period.
The computerized system allows consumers to compare plans and determine whether they qualify for financial help to get insurance.
Ohio residents can also use the marketplace or a state-run website — https://benefits.ohio.gov — to apply for Medicaid coverage during open enrollment or year-round.
Adding to the uncertainty this open-enrollment period, about 40 percent of federal funding for “navigators” who helped consumers research and sign up for the plans, was cut.
As a result, many local organizations that had offered consumer assistance this year had to pull out or scrounge for other funds to offer limited unofficial helpers.
The Ohio Association of Foodbanks, in a tersely worded news release, said it believed the nonprofit organizations that make up its Navigator program, including several in the Akron area, “have been held hostage by what we believe is a political maneuver to damage the viability and stability of the Affordable Care Act.”
Lori Jensen and Heather Gunnoe, certified application counselors at AxessPointe Community Health Centers, are bracing for an increase in consumers seeking help researching the ACA plans.
Jensen and Gunnoe believe AxessPointe is the only agency in Summit and Portage counties still receiving federal funds to continue their ACA programming.
AxessPointe has set up several free public fairs in coming weeks. Anyone can use their ACA counseling services, not just patients.
They also fear that many consumers will find that the premiums and costs for ACA plans will be too high, and they will have to opt out of insurance coverage.
Gunnoe said it is important for consumers to look at what’s available on the marketplace and not to assume the coverage they already have will be the same.
“If they roll over their same plan, they may not get the same advantage for their premium tax credit,” Gunnoe said. “Go in and see if there’s something better this year. I’m not sure there will be.”
The Affordable Care Act has been good, said Renee Lung, a certified application counselor at Lifecare Family Health & Dental Center in Canton, which like AxessPointe, is also a federally funded community health center.
“I just hate to see the road it’s taking now, especially since we’re a health center,” she said. “This has become political and not about people’s health.”
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or https://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at https://www.ohio.com/betty
Looking for enrollment aid for Affordable Care Act plans? See a list of places, times and events in the Akron area. A4