Monday, August 5, 2013

In Some Deeply Red States, Figuring Out How To Enroll In Obamacare Is Like ‘Searching For A Unicorn’

In just under two months, Obamacare’s health insurance marketplaces will open for enrollment, and low-income Americans will be able to apply for subsidies to purchase the newly-created health care plans. As that deadline approaches, many states have been busy launching public awareness campaigns so their residents will know how to gain access to Obamacare coverage in the fall. But that’s not necessarily the case in deeply red states that remain stubbornly resistant to President Obama’s health reform law, where Americans may not have any idea what their options are in October.

States had the option of either setting up their own insurance marketplaces under Obamacare, or leaving that work for the federal government to do. Many GOP-controlled states resisted cooperating with the health reform law under any circumstances and refused to set up marketplaces on their own. In Missouri, lawmakers actually went a step further and enacted measures to prevent state officials from providing “assistance or resources of any kind” to the federal government’s effort to establish a marketplace. The New York Times reports that’s essentially encouraged confusion among Missouri residents, who have no idea how to enroll in Obamacare plans.

Trying to figure out how to sign up for the plans that will be offered in Missouri’s insurance marketplace is “like searching for a unicorn,” the Times reports. Missouri hasn’t created any kind of marketing campaign for the new health insurance plans. There’s no local office affiliated with the upcoming state marketplace. There’s no detailed information about what the plans will cost yet.

Missouri is home to about 850,000 uninsured people, many of whom could get health care in Obamacare’s marketplace — but only if they know how to enroll. Payroll and benefits firms in the state say they are getting deluged with questions about what will change under the health reform law, and they’re struggling to keep up with all the questions.

Insurers are equally confused. Kenneth L. Schmidt, an insurance broker who wants to sell his products on Obamacare’s marketplace, doesn’t have any details about how that will actually work. “We have not seen any evidence of the federal exchange — how it will be run, how it will be structured in Missouri,” Scmidt told the New York Times. “Will it be run from Jefferson City? Will it be run from Washington? Who will watch over it? No clue.”

The confusion is not necessarily unique to Missouri. Across the country, Obamacare opponents have launched a coordinated misinformation campaign about the health reform law, confusing Americans about what the upcoming changes will mean for them. A survey of health care-related advertising in June found that Obamacare critics have outspent its supporters by a nearly five to one margin. And last month, the Koch Brothers poured millions more into a new Obamacare misinformation campaign. Anti-Obamacare groups are now launching grassroots initiatives to actively dissuade people from enrolling in the new insurance marketplaces — telling young Americans to “burn your Obamacare draft card.”

These campaigns could have serious consequences for Americans across the country. There’s a limited enrollment period for the new Obamacare plans in the state-level marketplaces. The initial enrollment period will be extended until March 2014 — but after that, people will only be able to sign up for coverage in between October and December. If they can’t figure out how to do it, or if they’ve been persuaded to simply forgo health plans in the marketplaces, they’ll be forced to go uninsured for the rest of the year even if they end up changing their minds.

In Missouri, health care advocates are hoping to prevent that from happening by relying on private organizations to step in and spread the word about Obamacare. The Missouri Foundation for Health plans to spend $8 million this year on a campaign to help the uninsured residents in the state access Obamacare coverage. Jennifer G. Bersdale, the executive director of a grassroots group called Missouri Health Care for All, a grass-roots organization, explained that the stakes are too high to not make an effort to publicize the new marketplace. “People who have been shut out of the market for years will soon be able to get good insurance, cannot be denied because of pre-existing conditions, and can get financial assistance to afford it,” she pointed out.


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