N.H. business owners describe Obamacare frustrations
Nancy Clark was entitled to feel a bit confident in her ability to use the federal insurance marketplace, also called the exchange.
Clark, who owns an advertising and marketing company in North Conway, is a member of New Hampshire’s Health Exchange Advisory Board.
She’s been active for several years promoting the Affordable Care Act legislation that created the marketplace, where individuals and small businesses are supposed to be able to purchase insurance plans and find out whether they qualify for tax credits toward the cost.
But when she went to the site to evaluate the plans available, she decided 2014 will be the first year she won’t provide insurance for her eight employees.
“It’s so contrary to everything I’ve been doing for years as a business owner, so I’m a little disappointed in that,” she said at an advisory board meeting yesterday.
Clark detailed her experience trying to sign up on the site three weeks after it launched Oct. 1.
Purchasing a small group plan through the site would cost 14 percent more next year than her current costs, still better than her option outside the marketplace, which would have meant a 39 percent increase, she said.
But she found her employees would get better deals – a 13 percent decrease in cost – if they purchase individual plans on the marketplace on their own, and she could increase their wage compensation by what she used to pay for their premiums, she said.
After sorting that out, she sat down to purchase a plan for herself and her family. After a long process of entering her family’s information, she was denied coverage.
She then called a help line, and said the woman on the other end was “very pleasant but not at all helpful.”
“I still love the whole idea, but ultimately I’ve got to figure out health care for me and my family,” she said.
Scott Baetz, co-chairman of the advisory board, hasn’t had any better luck, he said.
“The information we received this year from Anthem (Blue Cross Blue Shield) was phenomenal, but when we had questions, my insurance agent, who’s a really wonderful person, is swimming in the deep end,” he said.
“There were lot of expectations about where we were going, and as we encounter speed bumps, everyone is working to resolve them, but everyone is so disheartened and frustrated and it’s turning into concerned.”
Jennifer Syria, a representative from the New England regional office overseeing the federal marketplace, said the agency expects to have all problems fixed by the end of the month.
Federal law mandates that people have health insurance, either through their insurer, a program such as Medicare or the Veterans Administration, or individually through the marketplace as of Jan. 1.
The website has presented so many problems that the insurers selling policies through it – Anthem and Northeast Delta Dental – weren’t able to tell the board yesterday how many people have enrolled so far.
Federal officials have also said it could take until the end of the month for the site to be able to refer applicants to Medicaid if they are eligible for that program, said Katja Fox, an administrator at the state Department of Health and Human Services.
A report by the Lewin Group last year estimated that 3,600 people who are eligible for Medicaid would be likely to apply for insurance through the marketplace.
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)