The March 31 deadline for individuals to enroll in a health-care plan under the new law is two weeks away and those who miss it may face tax penalties of up to 1% of their income.
Hoping to spur uninsured Americans to sign up (and possibly recover a bit of dignity after the botched roll out of HealthCare.gov last fall), the White House has taken its sales pitch to new heights in recent weeks.
President Obama made a well-received cameo on comedian Zach Galifianakis’ talk show this week and commercial ads have featured everyone from Magic Johnson and finger-wagging moms to singing cats and dogs.
But as convincing as sports icons and trained animals are, why not ask Americans themselves if the new law is all it’s cracked up to be? So far, more than 4.2 million consumers have enrolled and at least a million more are expected to sign up for coverage in March.
We spoke with several people to find out how the affordable health care has changed their lives — for better or worse.
Darryle Royal, 30
“I can’t afford affordable health care coverage.”
I used to work for a mortgage lender and I received health benefits through my company, but since I left to go back to school I’ve been mainly making my living in the service industry and I haven't had insurance. I've paid out of pocket to visit the dentist but I put off a procedure I need because it's over $500. I'm generally a pretty healthy person, so I don't really ever have a need to go to the doctor, but I haven't had a well-woman exam in years, which I need to do ASAP. I don’t have the funds to pay out of pocket.
I didn't end up enrolling because I was frustrated by the quotes I received. I don't make very much money, primarily being a student and server, so I was sure there would be options available that were affordable. That was the whole point and what the plan's name was based on — affordability.
I did qualify for some tax-based subsidies, about $60 a month. But in order to get a plan worth having (meaning I'm not paying out of pocket to meet some gargantuan deductible), I would have been paying over $300 a month to begin with and that amount of savings wasn't much of a help.
I know it's irresponsible to not have health insurance, and it's been on my list to budget for forever since I stopped working for companies that provided it for me. Aside from having the convenience of health insurance for routine checkups or procedures, it makes me very nervous not having any major medical coverage, in case something serious or catastrophic should happen. I'm well aware of the plethora of stories out there about people who were financially ruined by one medical issue.
I've heard of some people having success stories, but personally I'm extremely disappointed. Considering all the havoc and big to-do that's been made about people losing their existing coverage, and people not being able to keep the programs they want, I expected there to be more of a benefit to this new act.
Linda Barnett, 62
“The new health law was a godsend for us.”
In January, my husband was diagnosed with cancer and he had to have massive surgery; he’s had eight surgeries in all. He’s 59 years old. He wound up disabled and not able to go back to work. We were able to get COBRA insurance for both of us, which cost us almost $1,000 a month. He has to be disabled for at least two years before he qualifies for Medicaid and because I’m not yet 65, I don’t qualify for Medicare.
Half his tongue was removed, the floor of his mouth was removed, and he still can’t eat solid food or speak well. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go back to work, so I started withdrawing my Social Security benefits early. I took family medical leave from my job as a human resource manager at a nursing home when he got sick, but I had to retire early in March because of the intensive care he needed.
I heard about Obamacare in October 2013 and I tried to get on the website to see what we qualified for. They had so many issues with Healthcare.gov that I couldn’t get on for a couple of months, but I was able to get a hold of an agent who helped me enroll on Feb. 1.
We got a good plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and we went from paying almost $1,000 a month to now $521 for both of us. For us, it was a godsend. He was able to keep all his same doctors and get all the care he needs.
COBRA would have run out after 18 months and if they hadn’t come up with this Affordable Care Act, he very well could have been denied insurance anywhere else. Your life can change so dramatically over one diagnosis.
Larry Schuler, 50
St. Joseph, Mich.
“I sold my business because of Obamacare.”
I opened my restaurant, Schu’s Grill & Bar, in 1990. There’s no question that the new health law has impacted not only my current business but future projects, too, to the point where I sold my restaurant in January and I’m in the final stages of moving on. I won’t be working in a brick-and-mortar business and putting people to work. I’ve chosen to go into consulting for myself and the ACA was one of the reasons, though not the only reason.
During our busy season, we are well over the 50 full-time employee threshold, which meant we had to offer private health insurance under the new law. As a small-business owner, I don’t have a chief financial officer and the paperwork required would have added probably another 20 hours per month to my accounting staff. We didn’t have the dollars to put into those additional labor hours.
It would have actually cost me all the profit I generated from the restaurant. Profit is not a dirty word. It’s important to survive.
Before the ACA, we already offered private insurance to our employees and we paid 50% of their policies, which would have cost us $150 a month per worker. But we hired a lot of young professionals who were 27 or 28 years old and they would opt out of medical insurance because they said they didn’t need it. That’s the irony.
Yes, they extended the deadline for small-business owners to comply with the ACA until 2016. They bought more time, but unless there’s an evolution in the policy, it’s still unacceptable. I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed in the Obama leadership but I’m more disappointed in the real problem, which is that Americans don’t really take the time to study and understand what’s really happening in politics. We’re the ones that voted him into office.
Robert Zucker, 64
Albuquerque, New Mexico
“I don’t have to worry about being discriminated against anymore.”
I had a neck injury as a result of a car accident and it qualifies as a pre-existing condition. With the Affordable Care Act, now I’m able to be covered for the problems I was having with my neck and I don’t have to worry about being discriminated against like I was before by insurers.
Comparing my private health plan to the ACA plan on the health care exchange was like night and day. All of my costs are less. I qualified for a $510 tax subsidy for me and my wife and what would have been a $1,000 policy is now $568 per month for us. It’s a considerably better plan than what we had before, with a lower deductible, lower copayment and lower prescription drug costs. We get to keep the same doctors we’ve always had.
It took two months before I was able to actually get to a point where I could pick a plan on the website, but I knew from the beginning that I qualified for a subsidy so I was very motivated to keep trying. And when I was answering the questions on the site, I didn’t have to talk about my physical ailments at all.
Now, with my insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, I’ve had troubles setting up an account so I can pay the premium, but that’s a different story. They weren’t prepared for all the people who were signing up, and it took until March to get my account set up.
Nothing is going to be perfect, but people are being helped by this and I think it’s a good thing. I look forward to seeing improvements.
If you’re looking for more information about signing up for health coverage under the ACA, check out these websites for more information, or send us an email here.
The Kaiser Family Foundation’s page on health care reform
KFF’s Health plan subsidy calculator
For business owners:
The Small Business Association
Healthcare.gov FAQ for large business owners