NC insurance market opens as health care required - WNCN: News, Weather

NC insurance market opens as health care required

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

Sherlene Parker and Nakimma Powell were strolling along downtown Raleigh's main street Tuesday when they met clipboard-carrying volunteers urging them to think about health insurance.

It was the first day consumers could begin testing whether a key part of the federal health overhaul law approved in 2010 will mean affordable coverage for them. A new marketplace where people can shop for private health insurance online or over the telephone launched on Tuesday.

Everything you need to know about the Affordable Care Act

Parker and Powell, both uninsured, said they were eager to buy coverage -- if the subsidies available to people with modest incomes allow them to afford it. Parker, 60, said the community health center where she had been receiving care closed recently, leaving her few options beyond hospital emergency rooms where she's had to wait up to nine hours.

"It's really hard having to go sit in a hospital and wait all night just to be seen by somebody when you can go to a doctor and get seen right then and there," said Powell, a 42-year-old diabetic and Parker's daughter.

North Carolina's marketplace is being run by the federal government because the state's Republican leaders rejected a role in it. Gov. Pat McCrory said in a videotaped statement Tuesday that while he opposes the federal health insurance law, he wanted to help it get off the ground.

"I'm opposed to Obamacare, but as your governor, I feel it's our duty to be as helpful as we can," McCrory said. He then goes on to explain the key elements of the law that are now rolling into effect:   

  • Most people will be required to have insurance by March 31 or pay a penalty collected by the Internal Revenue Service.
  • Those who already buy their own coverage or have it through their employer, parents, Medicare, or Medicaid don't have to do anything more.
  • Tax breaks that cut the costs of coverage are available based on a consumer's age, income, household size, and location.
  • The federally operated insurance marketplace is designed for individuals and small business to make an apples-to-apples comparison of plans.
  • Help to understand how to shop for the best coverage is available free, including at local social services offices, or at www.healthcare.gov.

The website was seeing heavy first-day traffic, with long delays for information.

Wake County Human Services has hired temp workers to handle the influx of people interested in health insurance.

"We think we will see an increase in the number of applications and we want to be able to process them timely," said Liz Scott with Wake County Human Services.

For those whose income makes them ineligible for Medicaid, subsidies are available.

"Subsidies are available for people who make 400 percent federal poverty level or below. As a quick calculation, that's a family of four that makes less than $93,000 a year," said Ashlee Smart with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Being above that range can mean significant increases in premiums, even tripling a current rate.

Blue Cross Blue Shield said the increases are due to richer benefits that are now required and coverage for pre-existing conditions.

The state Insurance Department did not receive word Tuesday from the state marketplace's federal administrators on the process, agency spokeswoman Kerry Hall said. A state hotline for insurance questions and complaints, which was created with funding under the Affordable Care Act but isn't designed to help people shopping on the marketplace, was not buzzing with anxious callers, she said.

"They haven't seen any noticeable uptick in calls. I know we've got a few referred to us from the federal hotline and vice versa, but really not anything noticeable," Hall said.

Melanie Sanders

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