October 2, 2013

‘Red’ states offer little help on buying insurance

State workers in several Republican-run states were ordered to not help consumers and instead refer all questions to federal officials.

The Associated Press

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Ashley Hentze, left, of Lakeland, Fla., gets help signing up for health care from Kristen Nash, a volunteer with Enroll America, a private, non-profit organization running a grassroots campaign to encourage people to sign up for health care, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. On the day consumers start perusing newly launched federal online health exchanges, Republican governors who oppose President Barack Obama’s insurance overhaul are mostly sitting on their hands. But the law is going into effect without them.

AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

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The roadblocks haven’t squelched demand. Houston resident Priscilla McAfee, 62, plans to use a new exchange policy to replace the Cobra policy that she’s used since being laid off last year. She said she’s paid between $450 and $500 monthly. Before the exchanges, she found comparable premiums, but for plans that came with significant out-of-pocket costs for care. Now, with the tax credits she’ll get at her current income, her premiums likely will be cut in half for reasonable coverage.

“I’m thrilled that the United States is finally catching up with some of the other countries in the world that provide health care,” she said. “And I’m very grateful for the timing ... at a time that my need is so great.”

A handful of states, meanwhile, have quietly made moves to help residents use the exchanges, even as GOP politicians reaffirm their opposition to the overall law.

Like in South Carolina, the state insurance office in Louisiana also has staff willing to answer questions. State government officials in Wisconsin sent letters to about 92,000 people expected to lose Medicaid government insurance at the end of the year, directing them to the exchanges.

And in other states, community groups and insurance companies have tried to step in where state leaders left a vacuum.

Atlanta’s Grady Health System, which runs the metro area’s safety net hospital and clinics, hosted a fair to explain how the exchanges work.

In Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, the leader of a local community center planned to spend the day talking on Haitian Creole radio stations to share information, particularly for residents who don’t speak English. “This is not a population with a lot of experience buying insurance,” said Gepsie Metellus, executive director of the Sant La community center.

The neighborhood is in the heart of Democratic territory in south Florida, but the state government in Tallahassee is ruled by Republican Gov. Rick Scott and GOP supermajorities in the legislature.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Oklahoma, which is selling policies in that state exchange, scheduled a public session in Oklahoma City to answer questions. By mid-morning, no consumers had shown up.

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