Locals share full spectrum of views on Obamacare

Oct. 01, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

The insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, become available today, giving people who don't get health benefits from work, or who want another option, until the end of March to pick out a plan or be fined by the federal government.

"I hope that it makes all the difference in the world when it gets started," Lee County Democratic Party Chairwoman Ann McCracken said. "I know this has been controversial, but the bottom line is it's going to help so many people afford health insurance who couldn't have afforded it before."

But not everyone sees it that way.

"It's a good plan for some, but there's no cafeteria plan that's good for everybody," Charlie Parks, a local Republican leader and chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, said. "The government should not be in the business of what's been a private industry. ... The thing about Obamacare is it's so unwieldy it creates a socialist state that Americans are not going to put up with."

Tom Snell, a local health insurance expert with Digital Benefit Advisors, said he stays away from political discussions about the new law. But from a purely practical standpoint, he said, there will be both winners and losers: About 6,000 people in Lee County alone will have access to insurance they wouldn't have had otherwise, but those who already have insurance will likely have to pay more.

However, not everyone will pay the full cost. People whose household incomes are from 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level — for example, families of four with household incomes from $23,550 to $94,200 — can qualify for tax credit subsidies on a sliding scale.

Snell said there are probably about 11,000 people in Lee County who meet those parameters, about 5,000 of whom are already on Medicaid and thus are exempt from Obamacare. But the other 6,000 people, Snell said, have a world of benefits open to them now and might need help understanding their options. He suggested people contact his office for help, at (919) 774-4141 or www.digitalbenefitadvisors.com. He also said he does speaking engagements and is willing to talk to church, civic, nonprofit and other groups who want to know about the process.

Free assistance is available online at www.healthcare.gov or 1-800-318-2596, or from a specialized government contractor, Karen Frazier, who can be reached at (919) 357-8216. She's based in Chatham County but is serving the local area.

Christie Terry, director of Medicaid services for the Lee County Department of Social Services, said that her office won't be able to help people with Obamacare questions because North Carolina chose not to help faciitate the insurance exchanges, although they can still help people with Medicaid. Terry said local health and social workers have fliers they will distribute that tell people where to go if they have questions about Obamacare.

One of the government's most referenced fears, as far as feasibility goes, is that too many people will simply opt out. Snell said that's a very real possibility, especially among young people.

"The young people who are already getting insurance are going to see the highest rate increases, and many of them are probably going to think about dropping it and just paying the tax, which for the first year is $95," he said.

Indeed, North Carolinians will be in for worse sticker-shock than residents of just about any other state, according to one recent study.

The Manhattan Institute, a libertarian think tank in New York, compared the cheapest possible pre-Obamacare and post-Obamacare coverage plans for various groups. It found that a 40-year-old man in North Carolina would see a 305 percent increase, the highest increase in the country for that demographic. A 27-year-old man would see a 267 percent increase, the second-highest in the country. Likewise, a 40-year-old woman would see 202 percent increase, the second-highest in the country, and a 27-year-old woman would see a 151 percent increase, the fifth-highest in the country.

Last week, N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin told the Charlotte Observer that he blamed the state's rising rates on the Republican-led General Assembly, which voted earlier this year to not get involved in the insurance exchanges and instead leave it up to the federal government. That, he said, led to decreased competition and thus increased prices.

Parks, however, said it was simply always too big and complicated to work well.

"It's an undoable type thing," Parks said of Obamacare. "And like all government stuff, they could've made it a lot better for everybody, including doctors and patients, in a two-page document."

About two weeks ago, U.S. Rep Renee Ellmers joined with other Republican legislators two draft a bill that would repeal Obamacare entirely and replace it with a bill called The American Health Care Reform Act. Parks said he prefers it since it's much simpler than Obamacare.

But McCracken said the benefits in Obamacare for those who need help the most, she believes, outwiegh any potential negatives.

"I think those of that have insurance, it will not affect us — except that from here on, there's no cap for catastrophic illnesses, and you can't be denied for pre-existing conditions," McCracken said. "I think many people who oppose it get so caught up in the politics, they forget about that."