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Health Insurance Exchange Opens Today

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 01 Oct 2013 06:46am | comments

Today is the first day that Mississippians can access one of the biggest elements of the federal health care reform law, the health insurance exchange.

The exchange is intended to be a market place where uninsured Mississippians can shop and compare private insurance plans. There are still a lot of Mississippians who could benefit from the exchange but don't know it.

 At Custom Cuts and Styles in South Jackson, the barbers and their clients talk and banter about the opening of the insurance exchange and how it might effect them.

 Many of these barbers, like an estimated 275,000 uninsured Mississippians, could be able to access private health insurance, and for some it will be the first time in years.

 Barbershop owner Chris Paige only recently purchased minimum insurance which he says takes up about 30%  of his budget three times what the health care reform law considers affordable.

 "It just takes you under. You are spending so much on health care and then an emergency comes up like I need another vehcile or something like that. I am going to have to make the choice of keep paying health insurance or go get another vehicle. Or maybe even lose the shop if it gets that bad," Paige said.

 Paige says he intends to search the exchange for a more affordable comprehensive plan.

 The plans on the exchange will have their premiums subsidized by the federal government to bring down the monthly cost.

 Companies will offer four levels of plans with lower level plans offering lower premiums but high deductibles and other out of pocket expenses.

 Huge bills and the high cost of insurance are a familiar stories in the shop, where many barbers and their clients either currently lack insurance or have gone without it in the past.

 While he has insurance now through his wife, Neal Harvey says a ruptured appendix and blood infection while he was uninsured left him $175,000 dollars in debt.

 "How do you realistically pay that off? The only thing you can do is make payments on it to make sure you stay current with it. (are you still paying for it?) Oh yes. I pretty much came to the conclusion that I am going to be paying for it for the rest of my life," Harvey said.

 Harvey makes it a point now to encourage the younger barbers to seek out coverage.

 Getting younger people into the exchange is important to its success because companies need their enrollment to offset the costs of older more expensive consumers.

 A new group of Mississippi non-profits and insurance companies called Cover Mississippi is starting outreach to uninsured residents this week.

 The Mississippi Health Advocacy Program is one of the groups involved, Communications Coordinator Jarvis Dortch says outreach efforts will be very diverse.

 "The model is to basically reach out to community based groups, hospitals, clinics, religious organizations to reach people who qualify for the exchange," Dortch said.

 The average monthly premium in Mississippi has come in lower than expected.

 Some Mississippians will pay little if any monthly premium at all.

 What a person pays is based on their income and what level of coverage they choose.

 Theresa Hannah with the Center For Mississippi Health Policy says for most people, the subsidized rate will be lower than what is available now.

 "I would expect they definitely would be paying a lot more than that. Especially if they had any health problems. Because in the past they have been able to rate people based on their health history," Hannah said.

 Still, the exchange has faced resistance from some in the state.

 Governor Phil Bryant opposed a state operated exchange calling it a 'gateway' to full implementation of the law.

 Ed Haislmaier with the conservative Heritage Foundation says the markets are too restrictive to allow for the competition necessary to drive down rates.

 "We not only want competition among the providers we want competition among insurers. We want the competition in what is the best benefit design and in fact to serve market niches. Some times what works for one person won't work for another," Haislmaier said.

 It remains to be seen how many of the state's uninsured will sign up for health insurance between now and the end of March when enrollment closes.

 While enrollment officially begins today, plans don't provide coverage until January first.

 

To enroll in the online healthcare marketplace/healthcare exchanges, visit healthcare.gov.

 

Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act begins Oct 1. See how the changes affect you with this Obamacare calculator:

 

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