October 2, 2013

Enrollment in health exchanges starts today

Charles Oliver
charlesoliver@daltoncitizen.com

— Three years after they were established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, new state and federal health care exchanges begin open enrollment today.

American citizens and legal residents who don’t have health insurance through their employers and who aren’t covered by government programs such as Medicare or Medicaid can buy health insurance online at www.healthcare.gov. And those who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level can qualify for subsidies to help buy that insurance.

The federal poverty level depends upon family size. It’s currently about $11,000 for a single person and about $23,550 for a family of four.

But should you sign up for the health exchange right away?

“I’d say that you really need to look at everything that is going on in your world,” said Dalton State Farm agent Dan Combs. “If you definitely have issues and you’ve gone on and shopped it and like what you see, then it probably can’t hurt to go ahead and buy.”

But Combs said that those who can wait a little might want to put off buying any insurance on the exchange because of potential “glitches” in the system.

Combs isn’t the only one urging caution. In a story published Friday on the financial website MarketWatch, several experts said Americans should avoid signing up on the first day. They warned that state and federal governments have tried to cram years of work on the computer systems to manage the exchanges into only about a year.

“Unless you are desperate for health insurance, our advice is wait till November or December,” Bryce Williams, a managing director for professional services firm Towers Watson, told the site. “It’s kind of like not buying the first model of a car when it comes out. Wait until the kinks get worked out.”

Enrollment for 2014 will continue on the exchanges through March 3. But the law requires all Americans to have health insurance by Jan. 1, 2014.

While government officials promise the system will be easy enough for private citizens to use without help, they’ve also created special “navigators” to help walk them through the process.

Glenn Allen, a spokesman for the Georgia Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner, said 16 individuals had passed the background check and training to become navigators in Georgia.

“That’s just the state requirements. I do not know if they have passed the federal requirements yet,” he said.

The insurance commissioner’s website has information on enrolling in the health care exchanges as well as a list of navigators that will be updated as more qualify at www.oci.ga.gov.

Licensed insurance agents can also help individuals through the enrollment process. Combs said he isn’t sure how many people will turn to agents for help. But he adds that agents will be there for those who do.