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Deductibles, Co-Pays & Costs, Oh My!

Friday, March 14, 2014

A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange internet site October 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty)

Forget for a moment the debacle of healthcare.gov's rollout. To understand the more analog challenge Obamacare faces today, you have to spend time with people like Gabrielle Terry.

She's what's called a "navigator" for the Jewish Renaissance Medical Center and she's charged with getting as many uninsured Newark residents as possible signed up by March 31st. That's not been easy. Officials initially expected navigators to spend about 45 minutes on each enrollment application; turns out the process is more like two hours.

"What stops people on the application is once they hit those plans. Sometimes its 26 different plans with 26 different premiums and copays and co-insurance numbers and--it's overwhelming," Terry said.

Terry has been doing outreach since October; she has yet to see a single person go all the way through the process of buying insurance.

Roughly 80 percent of subscribers are expected to qualify for a tax credit to help pay for their insurance--and many of those people will be buying into the insurance market for the first time.

Michael Ann Kyle leads the Greater Newark Health Care Coalition, a collection of providers and community groups that have been coordinating their enrollment efforts.

"The middle class/working class population who's eligible for subsidies now, this is really new to them. You still have an incredible amount of people who aren't aware that they're eligible," Kyle said.

Raymond Castro, a senior analyst at the progressive think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, argues that Governor Chris Christie has made the tough job of reaching those people far harder.

"The challenge New Jersey has, is that it didn't opt for a state exchange, so not there's enough money for outreach and we're behind the 8 ball," says Castro.

Targeted media campaigns are noticeably rare in New Jersey. The Jewish Renaissance Medical Center got federal funding to produce its advertising and air it in the Newark TV market. But last month, New Jersey forfeited $7.6 million in additional federal funding that Castro says could have been used for more of this kind of aggressive, targeted outreach--campaigns that he argues are essential, given the profile of New Jersey's uninsured residents.

"Most of the people who are uninsured in our state work, and sometimes they work in two or three jobs. These are people who are very busy, they often have children. They're trying to manage their lives, and so it's difficult for them to focus on this opportunity that we have in the the marketplace," says Castro.

But the challenge doesn't stop once navigators grab the attention of would-be subscribers. Many of them are encountering the process of buying and using insurance for the first time. People are confused on even the basics--like, what's the difference between “Obamacare” and the Affordable Care Act (none). Not to mention the complex math of deciding which type of coverage will best suit their needs.

"It scares them. they're scared. and I can totally understand," says Khalilah Jackson, a navigator working at Newark’s Beth Israel Medical Center.

"Some people will bring in their information and just say, 'Ms. Jackson I need help. Can you please advise me on what plan I should take?' They just want a physical person to speak to about the proper choice,"  Jackson said.

The stakes are high. Take a retail worker making $16,000 a year, just above minimum wage and just enough not  to qualify for Medicaid. This worker would get a federal subsidy to help pay for whatever plan he or she selects. Now, a reasonable choice would be a plan with a cheap monthly payment. But then the applicant also has to consider higher co-pays, deductibles and other costs -- all of which could make it unaffordable to actually use the insurance.

Meanwhile, federal data suggest that most people are relying on a time-honored convention for making confusing consumer choices: They pick the second cheapest option on the list.

Kyle, of the Greater Newark Health Care Coalition, says that's understandable because the decision is complicated.

"I mean, I'm a nurse and I work in health policy and I sometimes get puzzled trying to figure out my own insurance. What is a premium? What is a co-pay?… In the end, I think there's been too much of a focus on Obamacare as policy and not on what it means for me," Kyle said.

It might mean not opting into the system at all. Navigators say many people could decide they'd rather take the tax penalty than lose desperately needed monthly income.

Either way, the clock is ticking. Anyone still uninsured as of March 31 won't get coverage until 2015, and they'll pay for it at tax time.

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Comments [5]

eugene weixel from Harlem

New York taxi drivers are forced by the Taxi and Limousine Commission since October first to pay six cents per trip for Obamacare navigation that never ever eas made available. Look at tweets to @DavidYassky recemtly resigned commissioner and @nytwa so called taxi driver union. Try it

Mar. 16 2014 05:15 PM
Bruce Levin

Sounds like a good case for a "single payer" system. At least with Medicare, and its myriad of H.M.O.'s ( euphemismistically referred to as Medicare Advantage Plans. ) you still have a choice of a gov't option.

Mar. 14 2014 01:53 PM
Barbara

"Terry has been doing outreach since October; she has yet to see a single person go all the way through the process of buying insurance."

Your teaser is misleading. This navigator has seen and helped people, she just hasn't actually watched someone finish the process. My daughter met with a Navigator who helped her figure out what income bracket she was in and learn about plans and subsidies. Then she went home, considered and enrolled. I think that's pretty typical. And logical, don't you?

Mar. 14 2014 11:52 AM
karin from westchester county ny

after spending months on this i now have some ideas about whats holding things up. no surprise its the insurance companies---why is the disease fashioning the cure?

a big problem is that they re selling different products in different counties even counties right next to each other---bad enough that we only have access to care in the state we live in,we also have to try and align primary, specialists and facility by whats being sold in our particular county.So far I can't do it. I chose to stick with my primary care doctor and give up the local specialists who dont take the same insurance he does. Its too bad because I have put off seeing them in anticipation of the ACA but now I can t do it anyway and I have to pay a premium each month to do it.

Whats nuts is if I lived 5 min north of where I do I'd be able to see the doctors I'm used to seeing. Wonder if westchester got particularly screwed in this latest insurance scam?

even with help for out of pocket cost the deductable is unaffordable. those of us who have been waiting for health insuranvce don t have a spare $250 or $500 after we pay the monthly bill especially if we re also paying a deductable for adult kids who filed their taxes but dont make enough to pay for insurance ...as is this remains unaffordable unless you qualify for Medicaid and then you have to find a doctor who takes it.

My clearest impression is that this is not yet really like health insurance, more like catastrophic coverage (at a premium price) which is just not enough for people in my age group.

so..great idea...poorly and unfairly executed by the industry that caused the mess in the first place. Really really bad for insurance companies to save on their costs and increase their profits by limiting plans and networks so severely that people cant get the care they need. But no big surprise.

Mar. 14 2014 08:54 AM
Kevin from Columbia, MO

I'm a Certified Application Counselor (similar to a Navigator) in Columbia, Missouri. I've enrolled about 50 people since December. I work the eight county area around Columbia and will meet with people in their community to provide assistance. An average enrollment takes about 60 minutes and here in mid-Missouri there are 20 plans to select from. I'm also seeing many low-income individuals get good health coverage for $0 per month which is less than the penalty for not being covered.

Mar. 14 2014 07:40 AM

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