Americans as a whole say they know more about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and they told surveyors that they are better prepared for the law to take effect. But among the uninsured, more than six out of 10 people say they have done nothing over the past year to better understand how the law will affect them, the survey found.
People who have questions about the new law are running short on time to find answers and then sign up for coverage. Most Americans who fail to sign up for health insurance by March 31, 2014 at the latest may face penalties of $95 or more, and that amount could increase over time.
For those who live in Grand County, local health care reform advocate Charlie Kulander and others like him are here to help.
As a certified application counselor, Kulander cannot offer residents any advice about the health insurance plans that might work best for them. But he can guide them through a complex application process that changes every day, as healthcare.gov administrators work to improve the glitch-plagued website.
Kulander said he sympathizes with people whose eyes glaze over as they sift through information about deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket maximums. After all, much of his time as a certified application counselor is spent doing just that. But he said it ultimately pays for applicants to take their time and make sure that they understand how to browse through the new website.
“There are still enough problems and red flags that everybody needs to look at [their applications] and make sure that their subsidies and cost-sharing calculations are [correct], because that hasn’t always been the case,” Kulander said.
Right now, for instance, low-income Utah residents who may qualify for federal Medicaid subsidies aren’t getting them.
According to Kulander, the healthcare.gov website is not referring their applications to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, which administers the Medicaid program in the state.
As a result, the department currently cannot determine if those people are actually eligible for Medicare funding.
Despite those problems, Kulander believes the much-maligned healthcare.gov website is becoming more user-friendly as time goes on.
“You’re not running into those glitches that you were before,” Kulander said. “People who are getting through – especially those without children – are getting incredible deals as long as their income is within 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which [probably includes] the majority of people here in Moab.”
Just recently, he said, he helped a local couple find a $0 deductible plan for $19 a month.
Despite that success story, Kulander acknowledges that health care reform advocates have their work cut out for them as they try to promote the new insurance exchanges.
“Everything has been rocky for so long, and I think that took a toll on people’s enthusiasm,” he said.
Moving forward, though, he predicts that there will be a groundswell of interest in the healthcare.gov marketplace as the March 31 deadline approaches.
“Once word gets out about the many benefits of the ACA, hopefully this slow parade will turn into a stampede,” he said.
Anyone who is hoping to be covered at the start of the new year must register by Dec. 23. Information about the application process can be found online at: www.healthcare.gov/how-do-i-apply-for-marketplace-coverage/.
Kulander and his wife Jill are also available to meet with potential applicants from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Thursday at the Moab Free Health Clinic, 350 South 400 East For more information, call the free health clinic at: 435-259-1113. Kulander can also be reached at: 435-260-2147.