More than two-thirds of Colorado residents say they don’t understand President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. That’s according to a USA Today poll taken earlier this month.
Although aspects of the law are already in effect, the signature piece, the online marketplace, opens up to the public on Tuesday. There people can shop for insurance. The marketplace or exchange is called Connect for Health Colorado it’s playing a role in changing the landscape for insurance companies across the state. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.
Over the last several months, Linda Gann has been traveling A LOT. She’s the Western Slope Outreach Coordinator for Connect for Health Colorado and she’s working to educate people about the insurance marketplace.
"Lots and lots of questions, typically, what’s this going to look like or how’s this going to affect me or my family." she says.
The marketplace at connectforhealthco.com is for individuals, families and businesses. Here’s how it works: you enter information such as your age, how many people are in your family and your zip code and different health plans pop up.
"Side by side, plans will be presented," says Gann. "It’s a similar experience as someone might have with Travelocity. Rather than going to each of the airline carriers and making notes and comparing fares, a consumer will go to one of those websites and enter when they want to fly and compare the rates side by side. That’s what we’re doing with health insurance."
Connect for Health Colorado is pushing the ease of the process with youtube videos and television commercials. But, whether the system is easy to navigate is yet to be seen. That coupled with the values offered will shape attitudes about the new law across Colorado.
Tax credits or discounts on new plans are only offered on the online marketplace and the number of health plans you can choose from depends on where you live. In Pitkin County, for example, four insurance carriers are offering plans for individuals. Conversely, nine companies are offering options in Denver County.
The insurance carriers include recognizable names like Cigna, Access Health Colorado and Rocky Mountain Health Plans.
"Rocky Mountain is offering a full range of options within that marketplace," says Patrick Gordon.
He's Associate Vice President of Rocky Mountain Health Plans. He says the company’s plans on the exchange are competitive. And, he adds, the exchange is just one part of a changing landscape for insurance companies like his.
"It’s good that, frankly, we’re in a position where we can migrate from the existing marketplace to the post-ACA marketplace with this new exchange."
Not all of the new plans prompted by Obamacare are on the exchange. For example, Humana Insurance Company is offering 10 plans for individuals outside of the online marketplace. All insurance companies had to change their plans to meet new standards.
"They had to have those ten essential health benefits, they had to not have pre-existing condition exclusions, they had to have certain things that plans up to this point were not required to have," says Vince Plymell, a spokesman for Colorado’s Division of Insurance.
He says his agency approved more than 500 plans offered by 18 insurance companies earlier this year. They all meet the so-called Ten Essential Health Benefits companies are required to have in their plans for individuals and small businesses. So, companies are now required to cover mental health services and maternity and newborn care, for example. Plymell says the changes across the insurance sector provide more opportunities for the consumer.
"It’s just another option for folks. The exchange is good for people who are seeking tax credits, maybe people who haven’t been insured and they’re going to need that extra little bit. But, if you’re not eligible, not interested in that, you just have more options," says Plymell.
Even though the online marketplace opens for business tomorrow, consumers have until next Spring to sign up for a plan. And, additional enrollment periods will be held after that. If you sign up this fall, your insurance kicks in on January 1st, 2014.