JOPLIN, Mo. —
Kansans aren’t signing up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, because they don’t like it.
So said Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a surgeon who also is the point man for Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and his administration on health care issues.
“It doesn’t give them choices. It’s not necessarily more affordable,” Colyer said.
But at least one Kansan disagrees.
Marcia Weeks, 57, of Pittsburg, Kan., said she couldn’t be happier with the health insurance she signed up for last week under the federal program.
She wasn’t blocked because of a pre-existing condition.
It was much less intrusive in terms of the personal information required — just two questions — than the reams of paperwork she was always asked to fill out with a detailed medical history to insurance companies when she previously applied.
She also said she did not have problems signing up last week, either, using the website healthcare.gov.
Bottom line: Weeks said her insurance is less expensive and provides broader coverage than what she had previously.
In fact, she is saving more than $3,000 per year and now has preventive as well as catastrophic care.
Asked if there was any downside to signing up, or anything she didn’t like about Obamacare, Weeks said: “The only downside was having to wait years to get this.”
JOPLIN MAN’S EXPERIENCE
In a nation with no shortage of hot button political issues, none is as red hot right now as Obamacare.
Contentious from conception, it was the target of lawsuits and more than 40 separate attempts by opponents in Congress to defund it after it was created. It stumbled out of the gate, too, because of website problems, and then because it was learned that some people would not be able to keep their previous health coverage, as promised by President Barack Obama.
Joplin resident Ron Yust wasn’t surprised that the website had problems initially.
A software professional, he said he can be both critical and sympathetic. Yust, 57, is in the process of rolling out a small business developing mobile apps for companies, and like a lot of entrepreneurs, he wrestles over the choices for health insurance.
Right now, he’s buying insurance through his previous insurer, courtesy of COBRA, which allows him the right to temporary continuation of health insurance at group rates. It’s good for 18 months, and he has about a year to go.
“For me it is a little over $1,000 per month,” Yust said. “The employer is no longer paying his share of the premium. It gets expensive.”
He also has shopped around with insurance companies, but didn’t like what he found. The rates were comparable to what he is paying now.
“I don’t feel the private insurance is ever going to be good. ... When you are an individual or a small business you don’t have the power of numbers.”
His wife and one child are also going to be on the policy, but some members of the family have pre-existing conditions, and, at the very least, those push up rates; at worst, they preclude the family from coverage.
“It is kind of frustrating that for 20 or 30 years I paid out premiums and I never took advantage of the medical system. Now that I am older and I need it, I’m unemployed and have pre-existing conditions, and I can’t easily get affordable health coverage.
“Regardless of your views, there is an issue with health care coverage in the United States and the cost and the accessibility of it. It’s not going away. There is a problem somewhere. I don’t know if this (Obamacare) is the solution, but at least someone is trying to remedy this.”
Because he anticipated problems with the website initially, he waited until it “settled down” before he got on it.
“It is not a reflection of the program or the good of the program,” he said of the website’s earlier problems.
“My view of the website is that it is an extreme hand-holding approach. It is easy to navigate ... unless you need to make a change.”
Then, he said, it’s back to square one.
He’s shopping around, comparing rates. He has until Monday to sign up if the coverage is going to kick in on Jan. 1. He isn’t sure what his final costs will be, but after reviewing plan costs and factoring in subsidies — a little more than a third of those who have signed up so far have been eligible for them — he said the plans are “slightly higher than what I used to pay as an employee.”
He thinks his final costs will be in the range of $400 to $500 per month, covering himself and two family members, compared with the $300 to $400 he paid previously for family coverage.
While the federal health care system isn’t perfect, he is confident that not only will he find something cheaper, but it might be a better fit for his family than an employer-chosen plan.
“I am very optimistic. To me, this is the way it should be. I like the idea of having some control over your coverage.
“ACA (Affordable Care Act) was designed for us in our situation currently,” he added.
When Colyer said that Kansans don’t like Obamacare, he was looking at the latest round of numbers from people who were signing on through the government website.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 360,000 Kansans are uninsured. But as of Nov. 30, fewer than 1,900 Kansas residents had selected a plan through Obamacare. That’s not even one-tenth of 1 percent of the state’s 2.8 million residents.
In Missouri, 4,124 people signed up through Nov. 30 — again, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the population — out of nearly 880,000 who are uninsured.
In Oklahoma, the figures are similar. Only 1,673 had signed up as of Nov. 30, although nearly 700,000 people are not insured.
But the pace at which people are signing up in rural states such as Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma may have less to do with the question of whether they want it, or can afford it, than with their state’s overall political leaning.
According to a recent analysis by The Associated Press, a higher percentage of people are signing up for Obamacare (or being routed to Medicaid ) in states where Democratic leaders fully embraced the federal health care law than in states where elected officials have opted not to participate or cooperate.
Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma are among the latter.
The AP found that in a dozen mostly Democratic leaning states, including California, Minnesota and New York, where elected leaders have embraced Obamacare, more than 50 percent of those who applied for coverage picked an insurance plan or were eligible for Medicaid. Those states have both expanded Medicaid for lower-income adults and started their own health insurance exchanges for people to shop for federally subsidized private insurance. Some of those states also have used TV and radio commercials, billboards, bus signs and town hall meetings to encourage people to participate in the new health insurance marketplace.
On the other side of the divide are two dozen conservative states, such as Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, that have rejected Medicaid expansion and refused any role in running an online insurance exchange, leaving that entirely to the federal government. The sign-up rate was barely 15 percent in the two dozen states that aren’t cooperating in the implementation of the federal health care law, according to the analysis.
Back in Pittsburg, Marcia Weeks said the slow sign-up rate in rural states such as Kansas may also have something to do with what she characterized as “exaggerative partisan politics” by Obamacare’s opponents.
It isn’t Obamacare she said she feared, but a world where she was consistently denied insurance because of a “minor” pre-existing condition, or one where health insurance was prohibitively expensive.
Weeks is a 57-year-old nurse who retired three years ago and today spends much of her time taking care of her elderly parents.
Initially, she stayed on her employer’s insurance under COBRA. Like Yust, Weeks found it “very expensive. You are paying for the full cost of it,” she said.
“I know quite a few people who want to retire early, but the one thing that is keeping them from retiring is the high cost of health care.”
After the first year and a half, she began contacting insurance providers to find out what they could offer.
“That’s when my problem arose. I had to apply on the open market. I had one minor health problem. I have arthritis. I was turned down by every single company I ever applied to.”
She said she believes it is unfair that what she considered a minor health problem was blocking her from getting coverage. Her arthritis isn’t disabling and doesn’t keep her from remaining healthy and active, and if they can block coverage for her based on that, she believes that means they can block coverage for just about anyone.
“I don’t know of anyone over 50 who doesn’t have some kind of pre-existing condition,” Weeks said.
Her husband is 65 years old and is on Medicare, and they don’t have dependent children to include on insurance, so she was shopping for a policy just for herself.
One option was to go back to work, she said, but that would hamper her from taking care of her elderly parents since she would have to work full-time to get benefits.
Her only other choice was to join a high-risk insurance pool offered by the state of Kansas.
“They take everybody,” she explained.
But at a price. It cost her $800 a month for insurance with a $3,000 deductible.
“Which paid for no preventive care, which paid for nothing. It was a catastrophic policy.”
Weeks said she never “saw a penny” of that, meaning the insurance never made a payment on any of her doctor visits or prescriptions “because I never reached my deductible.”
She later opted for a $680 a month payment with a $5,000 deductible, but still, coverage was minimal.
“No prescription coverage. No nothing.”
In October, she went to the new website, healthcare.gov, for the first time. She said that while she could look at it, she couldn’t sign up initially, but added: “I really didn’t try that hard.”
She came back again in early December.
This time, she found 31 options, ranging from $369 to $640 per month. She opted for a “Silver” plan offered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield — one of the companies that had previously rejected her because of a pre-existing condition — that will cost around $420 per month when she begins coverage on Jan. 1.
“They all have to offer things like preventive care — which includes mammograms — (and) prescription drug coverage.”
She didn’t qualify for a subsidy, adding: “We had to pay the full price. I am still saving $260 a month.”
Generic prescriptions cost her $15, and her deductible is around $3,000 per year.
Even the top options under the more expensive “Platinum” plans, which had a zero deductible, were cheaper than what she has been paying.
Weeks also said the questions asked in order to sign up for a federal health care plan were far less intrusive than the page after page of medical history that she had filled out for the private companies. Had she overlooked a previous health problem, and failed to note it in her medical history, she believes the insurance companies would have used that as justification for dropping her. The federal government’s website came down to two questions, she said: “What is your age? Do you smoke or not?”
No question about arthritis or other pre-existing health problems.
“I can keep my own doctors,” she added.
“I was very pleased. I have been waiting for three years for this to kick in. It is definitely going to help our budget,” Weeks said, adding: “Without health insurance, most of us are one serious illness or accident away from bankruptcy.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Analysis: States that support Obamacare have more people sign up
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Kansans aren’t signing up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, because they don’t like it.
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