Health care costs go up under ACA

Kenneth Barth figures his premium for the lowest-cost bronze plan under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is about 80 percent higher in Mohave County than Maricopa County. (HUBBLE RAY SMITH/Miner)

Kenneth Barth figures his premium for the lowest-cost bronze plan under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is about 80 percent higher in Mohave County than Maricopa County. (HUBBLE RAY SMITH/Miner)

KINGMAN - Kenneth Barth would like to know why his premium for Obamacare's bronze plan will jump to $530 a month next year, and yet the same plan in Maricopa County costs only $294 a month.

"We're 80 percent higher than Maricopa. Why?" Barth said Tuesday at a marketplace enrollment fair held by Kingman Regional Medical Center. "Mohave County is the poor stepchild of Arizona. We're the fifth-poorest county in the United States."

About 20 people attended the enrollment fair, meeting with KRMC Patient Financial Services counselors and representatives of AHCCCS, Phoenix Health Plan and Health Choice to decide on the best plan under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

"I'm just here to make sure the shock figures are correct," Barth said.

Brenda Levy, assistant director of Patient Financial Services, said most of the people came in to find out what was changing in the types of plan coverage and how much the premiums were increasing.

The premium for the benchmark Silver plan under President Obama's health care law is expected to increase 17.5 percent in Arizona next year, more than twice the national average of 7.5 percent for the 37 states that use HealthCare.gov.

"I think pretty much people are worried about prices," Levy said. "Of course they're going up. We had a lady that was paying $600 a month last year and now it's over $700."

Open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act started on Nov. 1 and continues through Jan. 31 for coverage starting Jan. 1. Those who are not insured are subject to a hefty fine at tax deadline. The penalty increases every year. For 2016, it's 2.5 percent of income or $695 a person, whichever is greater.

Tax credits are allowed based on income that will cap the monthly premium at 2 percent to 9.5 percent of modified adjusted gross income. Caps are based on the second-lowest cost Silver plan, and lower income households pay a lower percentage.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 10 million Americans will be insured under Obamacare by the end of 2016, about 1 million more than 2015.

Department Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the agency expects more than 25 percent of uninsured and eligible people will purchase coverage on the federal and state health exchanges during open enrollment.

While Arizona has about a dozen companies offering insurance through the government marketplace, Mohave County has only a handful, Levy noted.

"We just want to make sure we get the right plan," said Susan Christner, who waited more than half an hour to see a counselor at the marketplace fair. "We don't want to get one that doesn't work here and you have to travel to Phoenix."

Christner said she doesn't go to the doctor much, and is just looking for something to cover her in case of an emergency.

Barth thought about signing up for the lowest-cost bronze plan in Maricopa County, which would allow him $2,800 in travel expenses from the money he'd save on monthly premiums.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed and trying to stay healthy and hopefully we don't have to get prescriptions that went up 830 percent," he said.

Here's an idea from Barth: Lower the eligibility age for Medicare to 55, or alternatively, allow those paying into Medicare to pay an additional amount equal to that - about 2.9 percent of their income - to get into Medicare.

"That way it's funded. Right now, we're paying into it and not getting benefits until we're 65," he said.

"Health care is expensive," Levy added. "People better enjoy it now because I look for companies not to offer it in future years. It just gets expensive."

While the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, Arizona and many other states did not have a health insurance exchange until 2014. Since then, some 205,666 Arizona residents have enrolled in the marketplace, and 268,391 residents have enrolled in AHCCCS, Arizona's Medicaid program.