The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

October 21, 2013

Insurance enrollments begin to trickle in

By CATHERINE LUCEY Associated Press
The Clinton Herald

---- — DES MOINES — Iowa residents are slowly exploring their options under President Barack Obama’s health care law after technical glitches stalled the rollout of the new federally run online insurance marketplaces.

Detailed enrollment data isn’t available because the federal government, which is running the so-called exchanges in Iowa and 35 other states, has not provided any numbers since the new marketplaces were launched Oct. 1. But a spokeswoman for one of the two insurance companies providing insurance in Iowa through the exchange said they have had 16 people enroll using the federal website during the first two weeks.

Leigh R. McGivern , a spokeswoman for CoOportunity Health, said they expect enrollment to increase in the coming months as the federal government deals with website delays that have plagued the first few weeks of the process.

“I think patience and persistence are the words of the day,” McGivern said.

A spokeswoman for Iowa’s other exchange provider, Coventry Health Care of Iowa, said it was too soon to release any numbers. The Obama administration is not expected to provide enrollment data until later this fall.

Matthew Covington, an organizer with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, which supports the health care law, said he was optimistic people will be able to get enrolled in the coming months.

“Once the rush subsides a bit or they beef up some infrastructure, we’ll see some positive developments,” Covington said. “Darn near everyone knew this wasn’t going to roll out with bells and whistles.”

Under the health care law, which seeks to reduce the number of Americans without health insurance, individuals are required to have health insurance from their employer or purchase it. Those who don’t buy insurance will be assessed a penalty next year. Those shopping for insurance in Iowa should be able to use the federal marketplace website to compare plans and apply for subsidies to help cover the cost. The earliest coverage could begin is Jan. 1.

Many residents have expressed interest in a new low-income health program the state is launching as part of the overhaul. About 400 people have applied through the state for the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan, which would use federal funding to cover up to 150,000 people who don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid. The state will start processing those applications soon, said Amy McCoy, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Human Services.

McCoy said the federal government has not reported to the state if additional people have applied through the federal website.

The state needs a waiver from the federal government to get additional Medicaid dollars for this program. The waiver hasn’t been granted, but Gov. Terry Branstad remains optimistic that it will happen.

Emma Sandoe, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, said the government is now reviewing the waiver application. She declined to talk specifically about the process.

Under the Iowa plan, which was submitted to the federal government last month, those with incomes up to 100 percent of the poverty line — under about $24,000 annually for a family of four — would go on a new state-run health plan with benefits similar to those offered to state workers. People with incomes from 101 to 138 percent of poverty — between about $24,000 and $32,000 annually for a family of four— would get private health plans on the new health care exchanges; those premiums would be paid for with the federal dollars.

Starting in 2015, some participants could be subject to small monthly premiums, but those could be waived if they complete certain health goals or in cases of hardship. If approved, the new program would start coverage Jan. 1.

Other pieces of the health care rollout are still coming together in Iowa. Three medical organizations received federal grants to hire people in Iowa to serve as navigators, who are people specially trained to help consumers find their way through the new health insurance system. All of the organizations — Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa and Genesis Health System — said people are still in the process of completing a training and certification process.

“I wish it could have been a week ago. I think we’re getting close,” said Denise Hotopp, vice president of organizational integrity for Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa, which has hired four fulltime navigators.