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9/30/2013 6:00:00 AM
Obamacare insurance markets open Tuesday

PHOENIX (AP) - A key portion of the Affordable Care Act rolls out Tuesday, allowing Arizonans without employer-provided health insurance to sign up for policies on a government-run exchange and check to see if some of the costs will be offset by tax credits.

The health insurance "marketplace" for Arizona will be run by the federal government because Arizona is one of roughly three dozen states that rejected the chance to run their own plans. A variety of plan levels will be available that cover basic health care needs and pay for 60 to 90 percent of the costs of doctor visits, hospitalizations and other medical services.

And people with pre-existing conditions can't be locked out of the market and won't be charged more than others their age.

Insurance premiums came in cheaper across the nation than expected, good news for the federal officials who have been touting the benefits of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in the face of continuous Republican opposition.

"There's so much concern out there" that the government isn't up to the task, said David Sayen, the regional administrator for Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is running the insurance marketplaces. "For some reason people don't think we're capable of doing something like running big health care programs that we've been doing for 35 years."

The agency, part of the Health and Human Services administration, already provides health insurance to about 100 million people though Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

About 20 percent of Arizonans don't have insurance, but at least 300,000 are expected to get Medicaid coverage for the poor starting Jan. 1. That leaves about 700,000 people without insurance, many of them eligible to buy it through the exchanges.

Premiums released last week came in lower than expected, with Arizona's average rates for two lowest-cost "silver" plans that pay for 70 percent of medical costs costing $248 and $252 per month. That's before tax credits that will cut the price for lower-income residents and is substantially less than the national average of $310 or $328 for those plans.

But glitches are already evident.

Late last week, the Health and Human Services Department said a Spanish language version of the website - where people will be able to compare plans, providers, rates and sign up for insurance - will not work for weeks. They also said small businesses that will be using a similar site won't be able to sign up for insurance until November, although they can compare plans and rates.

That is to be expected, according to Dan Derksen, a University of Arizona public health policy and management professor who helped set up New Mexico's marketplace.

"It won't go entirely smoothly. However, I think that CMS is very prepared to use feedback and information to quickly improve the system," Derksen said Friday. "This is a major undertaking and it will test the new federal data services system."

One outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act said the rollout of the health insurance marketplaces will bring a raft of problems.

"There's so many aspects of the system that aren't functioning," said state Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix. "Small businesses, they're going to be required to go into this complicated system with no benefit."

Seel said allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines, limits on malpractice lawsuits and reducing fraud, waste and abuse would bring better access to medical care without the burdens.

"The alternative is this novel concept called the free market," he said. "You do those three things ... and you'll go a long way toward making health care accessible and affordable."

People can expect a media blitz in the coming week, with advertising across multiple media formats and outreach ramping up in the weeks ahead to make people aware of the insurance exchange, Sayen said.

"Our product is going to be available in a week, and that's when we're going to start marketing and yelling from the rooftops and all that," he said.

The insurers available in Arizona for each of the plans won't be revealed until Tuesday, when millions of Americans who don't get health insurance at their jobs and make too much to qualify for Medicaid will be able to use the insurance exchanges to shop between four tiers of plans, plus available catastrophic coverage plans.

They can sign up as early as Oct. 1 for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, October 4, 2013
Article comment by: Linda Athens

(delete) 198WC

Republicans trotted all kinds of plans out. THEY WERE IGNORED BY HARRY REID AND THE MSM - that way, they could look into the camera and say, IF THE REPUBLICANS DON'T LIKE OBAMACARE, WHY DON'T THEY COME UP WITH SOMETHING BETTER.

Even our own Gosar and about five others had a good plan. (delete) Direct your question to where it belongs, Reid and the main stream (lying by omissions) media. Mike Lee, who helped Ted Cruz also has a plan - there are many out there without disrupting and destroying the entire Republic. And still, with Obamacare, in the end, 30 million will be uninsured and only 7 million can go on exchanges. So far, they have NONE.

What Does It Mean? Noone knows what it means. Noone but Dr. Betsy McCaughey read it, the Navigators have two weeks training, the software is either not working or making math mistakes everywhere and you have a good chance of having your information stolen. Other than that, IT'S GREAT!

And how do we know? Because obama told us so --after he changed it 19 times to exclude his friends.

Posted: Monday, September 30, 2013
Article comment by: pl .....

I like the article's term, that Arizonans will be "allowed" to buy into Obamacare. That's something like seeing those flashing blue lights behind you on the highway, and saying that you are allowed to pull over. Some would say that you have a choice (not to pull over), and they would be right, in exchange for felony charges and perhaps a bullet through your head. Still, that's more of a choice that we have than whether to be monitored and tracked by facial recognition cameras at the intersections in towns like Bullhead City (although that does help police top approach people, particularly late at night, who are minding their own business). Ah, America, where there are so many subtle ways to lie.

Posted: Monday, September 30, 2013
Article comment by: Try Utah

Insurance Marketplaces aren't new. States everywhere have been putting together this type of market, to try and get away from the Lock and Hold Monopoly that the insurance companies currently have .

So of course joinging a "Buying Group" is how we get better rates.

This no different than what Utah did 7 years ago. GOP leaders Huntsman and Hatch gave it GLOWING reviews. These were focused on providing an exchange for the benefit of small businesses only, but it's no different than what has been put together for individuals in the ACA.

Check it out:

The one thing missing in Utah's Avenue H, is how to address the problem of those making VERY low wages. Even a great product for a 15% discount is still often too expensive for people working for below poverty wages.

That's okay, but the ACA addresses this issue, by helping those people with a part of their premium (people who are currently working but not getting benefits from their employer).

How do we pay for them? The money comes from taxing those employers who really don't want that burden of providing insurance, and who would rather let the community pay for their accidents and serious illnesses.

In the long run, we will have:

1. Fewer people too sick to work
2. Fewer people collecting permanent SSDI
3. Fewer people going blind from untreated diabetes
4. Fewer people learning they have stage 4 cancer because they didn't have the money for a yearly check up
5. Fewer people depending on charity care from our own doctors, who then make up the costs by charging us more.
6.....the list goes on and on and is precisely why no other country is foolish enough to keep their entire population sick and unproductive.

Posted: Monday, September 30, 2013
Article comment by: Linda Athens

Liberals are giddy that a shutdown looms and Republicans will be blamed, meanwhile the trainwreck is leaving the station. AND on Obamacare's website, THEY JUST QUIETLY ERASED THE WORDS FREE HEALTHCARE. Hahaha!

Navigators, hired for signup help, explaining obamacare, have but 20 hours computer training. No Federal background checks, your "navigator" in charge of your personal info could well have just gotten out of prison for identity theft.

Early today, we learn, the giant software program used has only gotten the math right about half the time as of last week.

The firewall safety checks, due to be tested last May weren't. Supposed to happen today. Sure it will.

Obamacare has already wiped out health plans in ten states starting with CA. Aetna, United Health, Anthem BC left leaving 58,000 without their plans (...but if you like your current plan.....).

Wellmark BC/BS left Iowa who sold Iowans 86% of their plans.

Georgia has only 5 insurers left - two of three in Wisconsin left.

CT, where Aetna was founded (1850) didn't join exchange - Rate modifications won't allow enough collected to cover cost of plans.

And the CBO and Deloitte estimate 20-65 million could lose employer sponsored healthcare.

Posted: Monday, September 30, 2013
Article comment by: Thank You, Mr. President

We finally get to buy insurance at an affordable rate, hospitals no longer can charge $10 for a box of tissues, and doctors can no longer pad their bills.

Posted: Monday, September 30, 2013
Article comment by: Frank Lee Speaking

One of the funnier stories I came across in the past day or so was from the Weekly Standard. The govt obamacare site, healthcare (dot) gov, changed the heading on one of their informational questions. From June until Sept. 15 it read:

"Where can I get free or low-cost care in my commumity?"

After the 15th, they changed it. It now reads:

"Where can I get low-cost care in my community?"

I guess they thought having the word "free" in there would not play very well with the taxpayers who actually have to foot the bill. Nothing the govt provides is "free".


Posted: Monday, September 30, 2013
Article comment by: Trained Observer

This novel concept called the free market has not resulted in people being able to afford insurance in the past. Why would it work now? Its like the great trickle down theory of economics - non existent. If the Republicans have any idea that would help people in the US they should have trotted it out. Instead they want to preserve wealth for the oil companies and Monsanto.

Posted: Monday, September 30, 2013
Article comment by: What Does It Mean?

" "silver" plans that pay for 70 percent of medical costs costing $248 and $252 per month. That's before tax credits that will cut the price for lower-income residents ... " .

What does this mean? Does it mean EACH eligible household adult would pay $248 or more per month? Does it mean that tax credits applied at tax refund time will give eligible taxpayers a break on their possible tax liability? (pay now, possibly get a tax refund later?) How does this payment compare with what Canadians are paying for their health care?

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