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healthcare.govIf you don’t have affordable health insurance through an employer then now is your chance to shop for a plan on the individual market. New options are now available and many people can get help paying premiums. In fact, in 2014 more than 90 percent of people who enrolled in an insurance plan through healthcare.gov in North Carolina received financial assistance, and of this group the average premium was $80 per month. This is for a comprehensive policy.

The current open enrollment period  stretches until February 15, 2015, but if you want your benefits to start on January 1 then today is the day to purchase a plan. This is true no matter when you bought insurance in 2014.

The website is working smoothly these days but you don’t have to navigate the process by yourself. Plenty of health insurance agents are ready to assist you. Also, application counselors and navigators based at nonprofits around the state can help. They are all volunteers or grant funded and have no financial incentives to steer you toward any particular company or plan. You can check out this website to find help in your area. You can also call 1-855-733-3711.

It is especially important to shop around even if you bought a policy. If you don’t actively switch plans then you will be automatically reenrolled. But with new options and more companies competing in the state reenrollment is unlikely to get you the best deal. As with most products, you need to shop around.

Another reason to buy a policy today is that you aren’t stuck with the plan you choose. To prevent a gap in coverage you can purchase a policy now and continue investigating your options during open enrollment. As long as you act before February 15 then you can opt for a different plan. Last year once you chose a policy you were stuck. This year you can change plans during the entire open enrollment period.

Unfortunately, many people trying to obtain coverage will discover that they fall into the Medicaid gap in North Carolina. Because the state legislature has refused to expand Medicaid working families earning less than 100 percent of federal poverty level may still find coverage unaffordable, and they won’t get help paying premiums. If our lawmakers choose to act in the next legislative session then most struggling citizens will be able to obtain comprehensive insurance.

 

 

Commentary

Reporter Dylan Scott at Talking Point Memo has the details of another wonky but important way that the Affordable Care Act is succeeding in holding down health care costs:

The medical-loss-ratio requirement mandates that insurance companies spend at least 80 percent of premiums on actual health benefits. It is one of the various provisions intended to help shape the behavior of insurance companies, making the market more efficient and cost-effective for consumers. Administrative costs are kept down, meaning that more of people’s money is going to real care.

“The medical loss ratio requirement and rate review mandated by the ACA put downward pressure on premium growth,” officials from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wrote in their report. Overall private insurance spending, of which premiums are a part, grew at a 2.8-percent rate — the lowest since at least 2007.

As Larry Levitt, vice president at the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, put it to TPM in an email: “That is how it’s intended to work.”

In other words: Still more evidence that the ACA is insuring more people (and thereby saving tens of thousands of lives) and holding down overall health care costs.

Click here to read the entire story.

 

Commentary
Hisemug

State Senator and Mayland Community College “Coordinator of Special Projects,” Ralph Hise

Sensing building momentum for the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act that would both cover hundreds of thousands of uninsured low income North Carolinians and bolster the state’s economy with billions in federal dollars, right wingers appear to have launched a new campaign of propaganda and distortion.

A prime example is this article on conservative website known as Watchdog Wire. In it, the author revives and recycles multiple absurd untruths about the supposedly ginormous cost to the state of Medicaid expansion — which she attributes to State Senator and Mayland Community College “Coordinator of Special Projects,” Ralph Hise. According to the article:

“the state would have to cover administrative costs to the tune of $2 billion per year. That’s a ’50-50 split’ said Hise.”

This is utter nonsense. As this detailed analysis by the North Carolina Institute of Medicine shows on page 5, the financial impact to the state from 2014 to 2021 if the it expanded Medicaid under the ACA is a net savings of $65 million. Hise’s “$2 billion” claim is simply out-of-thin-air malarkey.

The article also quotes Hise for the following supposedly damning criticisms: Read More

Commentary

Pat McCrory press eventAt some point, it’s got to rankle Pat McCrory. The man has been Governor of the state and, effectively, the head of a party with huge legislative majorities for nearly two years now, but when it comes to making laws and policies, he might as well be, well, the Mayor of Charlotte.

Lest anyone think the recent election (in which McCrory’s ally Thom Tillis got elected to the U.S. Senate) did anything to change this situation, State Rep. Nelson Dollar spoke up yesterday to make sure that everyone knows it did not.

The subject was Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act — an urgent and life-saving proposition that the Guv has finally come around on and that makes eminent political, economic, moral and common sense. Conservative Republican governors in several states have already successfully led efforts to expand Medicaid in their states to large and beneficial effects.

Unfortunately, Rep. Dollar — an occasional voice of reason on Medicaid in recent months and, for now, chair of the House Appropriations Committee — is having nothing to do with expansion for the time being. Like the reactionaries in the state Senate, Dollar staked himself out yesterday as an opponent — at least until the state has “a better idea of what the lay of the land is.”

But, of course, mapping “the lay of the land” — both as to whether Medicaid will be sold off and privatized (a terrible idea that Dollar has rightfully opposed) and whether John Roberts will have a change of heart in the latest Supreme Court challenge to the ACA — will take several months at least. Thus to delay consideration of expansion until such matters have been clarified is to all but kill the whole idea (and doom several thousand more people to premature deaths for lack of health insurance) for 2015.

Which brings us back to the Mayor, er uh, the Governor. How will he respond to this broadside against what would clearly be his most important policy accomplishment and first successful effort to lead the General Assembly rather than serve as its affable and pliant rubber stamp?

Let’s hope this latest humiliation stirs up some anger and resolve in McCrory to take charge of the situation and become the one who’s giving the orders in Raleigh for a change.  Whatever happens will be a strong indicator as to whether McCrory really wants to become the Governor of North Carolina or remain in his current and mostly ceremonial role as the state’s chief ribbon cutter and the General Assembly’s errand boy.

Commentary

childrenAs enrollment begins again, on Saturday, for Affordable Care Act health insurance, it is crucial to note that an important population—children—are still often uninsured. More than five million children in the United States lack any form of health insurance.

In North Carolina, this is particularly a problem within the Hispanic population. The state ranks among the top ten states with the highest number of uninsured Hispanic children, according to a joint report put out by Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families and by the National Council of La Raza. The report found that 12.5% of Hispanic children in North Carolina are uninsured, which is higher than the national average of uninsured Hispanic children. Nationwide, Hispanic children tend to be twice as likely to be uninsured than their white non-Hispanic counterparts.

Contrary to popular belief, immigration status is not the main reason that these children don’t have health care coverage. The majority of Hispanic children in North Carolina are U.S. citizens and are eligible for a program such as ACA, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program which would provide them with health insurance at an affordable cost to their families.

The real barrier to enrollment in health insurance for Hispanic children, according to the report, can often be their parents’ limited English proficiency. A study found that more than one in eight Hispanic children, between the ages of 5 and 17, live in a household where English is spoken “less than well.” A parent with limited English proficiency may not be able to make it through a health care application in English which then results in an eligible child not getting health insurance.

Along with making Spanish language applications available for all health care programs in North Carolina, there needs to be an emphasis placed on educating Hispanic families about health care options for their children and assisting them with the enrollment process. The health care insurance options are available, we just need to do our part in getting these kids signed up.