Last Updated:December 21 @ 12:51 pm

AZ Obamacare signups lag

By Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff)

Enrollment for health insurance authorized under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is moving very slowly in Arizona, according to local health care experts and residents.

"We came close to getting one person enrolled (as of Tuesday)," said Ed Gussio, owner of Benefit Logic, Inc., a health insurance firm in Flagstaff. "We talked to many people, but there are a lot of glitches" on the site.

The ACA, also known as Obamacare, is intended to extend coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, to implement measures that will lower health care costs and to eliminate industry practices that include denial of coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

Both North Country HealthCare as well as Benefit Logic, which are certified by the federal government to help people navigate the insurance website healthcare.gov, report they had not successfully gotten anyone enrolled as of Tuesday.

The site had about 8 million visitors in the first four days after it launched Oct. 1.

"(By comparison), one of the largest and busiest airlines in the country experiences about 6 million visitors to its site a month," said Allen Gjersvig, of the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, an organization that represents and advocates for health centers statewide.

The site got a software update and additional servers last weekend, which increased its speed by 50 percent, he said.

"Some locations (within our system) have successfully helped people to (go so far as to) set up their account and work on their application," but no one had completed the enrollment as of Wednesday, Gjersvig said.

One local resident who made some progress did so not via the website but by telephone.

James Friedland of Flagstaff said he helped his wife apply for insurance on the health site's policy marketplace. At first, the website traffic delayed the application, but then he noticed a phone number on the site and called for help.

He said the person who answered the phone was able to help his wife's application move along and they are now waiting to hear back about her financial eligibility for the insurance.

"I'm thrilled with the new legislation and I don't understand why (some) people are against it," Friedland said.

He said both he and his wife are physicians.

"There are a lot of misconceptions put out by those opposing the legislation," he said. "It is hard for me to understand why people who deal with the private insurance market and those who have been turned down (for insurance) could be against this."

Bria Sherinian, health benefits advocate for North Country HealthCare, said people do not have to apply this early. They have until the Dec. 15 deadline to enroll to get covered as of Jan. 1, 2014. Open enrollment runs through March 31.

"Anyone currently covered by AHCCCS (the Arizona version of Medicaid for the poor) does not need to do anything (to enroll in the marketplace), just do your normal renewal," Sherinian said.

Those who currently have coverage through Medicare, Medicaid or through their workplace do not have to apply for insurance on the Marketplace website, Gjersvig said.

People who have an offer of insurance coverage through their workplace can shop at the Marketplace but might not be eligible for tax credits based on income, Gjersvig said. The two exceptions to this are those whose work insurance costs more than 9.5 percent of their salary or their work insurance does not meet the new benefits standards set by the ACA.

Gjersvig said most people, once they are able to get on the website and work on their application continuously, should not take long to complete enrollment. Those who need to provide additional information and whose information is not in a data system may find it takes longer to complete their application.

Sherinian said the federal insurance does not ask applicants about their health history or pre-existing health conditions. It does ask whether the person is a smoker, family size and income. The insurance does not charge women more than men and there are no "age cutoffs" for coverage.

Sherinian is one of the people at North Country HealthCare who can help people navigate the Marketplace and fill out their application.

People who earn more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($45,960 for a single person, $94,200 for a family of four) are not eligible for the subsidies and tax credits available through the insurance program, she said. The new insurance gives people the option to enroll for a Gold, Silver, Bronze and Platinum plans. Participating insurance companies vary by location.

Everyone is required to have health insurance, so the government will impose a penalty on those who did not have coverage, she said. The penalty the first year is $95 per adult and $47.50 per child with a maximum of $285 per family or 1 percent of their income, whichever is the greater. Penalties will rise in subsequent years.

The exceptions are Native Americans, undocumented immigrants and those in prison. No one in any of these categories can be penalized for not having insurance, she added.

Gussio said his agents are certified to help people apply for insurance on the Marketplace at no cost to the applicant. Benefit Logic's agents are insurance brokers.

He said he thinks the cost of insurance through the Marketplace is higher than private insurance rates, but with subsidies and tax credits lower or cheaper to the insured who qualify.

"We're seeing both the positive and negative effects of the new insurance," he said. "We do have people waiting to come in and get insurance who could not get insurance before because of their pre-existing health problems."

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(c)2013 The Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff, Ariz.)

Visit The Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff, Ariz.) at www.azdailysun.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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