Health Insurance Marketplace Update

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It’s been more than a month since the Affordable Care Act was launched. The web site used to sign up for health insurance under the plan has been plagued with problems. The Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers received the biggest amount of money granted by the federal government to Arizona “Navigators,” who are charged with helping people sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Senior Director for External Affairs of the Alliance Tara McCollum Plese give us an update on her organization’s experiences in helping people sign up for insurance.

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. President Obama today announced that insurance companies can continue offering plans that would otherwise be canceled under the affordable health care act. The reprieve will last one year. The move comes as a myriad of problems is slowing the ACA's progress. Joining us now is Tara McCollum Plese of the Arizona alliance for community health centers, charged with helping people sign up for health care coverage. Good to see you again.

Tara McCollum Plese: Thank you. Good to see you too.

Ted Simons: I know you're very busy these days. What are you seeing, hearing out there?

Tara McCollum Plese: We're hearing a lot of criticism and a lot of it is justified. We understand the frustration, however we're staying very positive about it because we have so many people coming to us who have never had insurance or have gone years without health insurance because they have preexisting conditions, they were employed, lost their job or reemployed and have an employer who doesn't provide health insurance. We see a great amount of need out there. People who are very anxious to get health care coverage. So that's the part we see most often quite honestly.

Ted Simons: Numbers. Less than 750 in Arizona with signing up for the coverage I guess getting their coverage. Little bit of a surprise that it seems awfully low.

Tara McCollum Plese: The numbers we got yesterday from health and human services is that we actually completed 17,220 applications. So that is for the marketplace, and over 7,000 of those folks were eligible for the subsidy. So they are still working through all of that. This is fairly complicated. You can imagine if you have employer based health insurance and your employer chooses a plan for you and all you have to choose is whether you want PPO, HMO or HSA, that's difficult enough but these folks that are going on the marketplace, are faced with eight different health care plans and 109 choices amongst the health plans. So it becomes a little complicated and you throw in the subsidies it's going to take some time to get people through the system and help steer them towards what they need and we're going to be using very trusted brokers to help with that process. It's very complicated.

Ted Simons: 17,000 applied and are maybe somewhere in the chain. But 700 or so have actually gone through. Those are the numbers being reported.

Tara McCollum Plese: 739 Actually completed.

Ted Simons: So 17,000 that might eventually be completed.

Tara McCollum Plese: Correct. They are in the queue.

Ted Simons: There we go. That makes better sense.

Tara McCollum Plese: They are in the queue.

Ted Simons: Are you surprised only 17,000 have signed up?

Tara McCollum Plese: You know, actually, we were surprised that there were as many as 17,000 quite honestly. Yesterday there were a group of us who met and we were all taking bets on what that number would be. We all low balled it. The closest was 450. We were quite surprised.

Ted Simons: The people in the queue, the 17,000 that you want to add to the 739 already through, what kind of problems are they facing? Obviously you mentioned indecision. You mentioned the complicated process. The bugs that we keep hearing about, the problems that are here, there, everywhere. Where do you see it?

Tara McCollum Plese: There were a lot of people who get about halfway through the application and then they have difficulty getting through the rest of it because of the glitches in the system. When I'm hearing anecdotally, I'm not a navigator on the front line, nor am I certified application counselor. I don't know what the front line people are experiencing with folks, but what I have heard anecdotally is more people are actually getting through the entire application process and getting to the end. What we're seeing here in these numbers are those folks that started early and keep going back and attempting to get through that system. At this point on I think it will be much easier process and we have been assured by November 30th that it's going to be much easier for these folks.

Ted Simons: Are you confident that's going to happen?

Tara McCollum Plese: Yes. Fairly -- can I say fairly?

Ted Simons: You can say whatever you want.

Tara McCollum Plese: Fairly confident.

Ted Simons: The president today said he was going to give a one-year reprieve on folks who had their insurance policies canceled because they didn't meet the requirements set forth by the ACA. What are you seeing and hearing a lot of folks, people on the front lines of your organization, running into a lot of folks saying I'm here only because I had my insurance policy canceled?

Tara McCollum Plese: Actually, we haven't had anybody at this point who has reported back to us that people who got that termination notice were coming to them to apply in the marketplace. So I think it's more of- it was more a matter of they were angry, they vented, but we're waiting for next steps. We didn't see a rush to the marketplace because they got a termination notice.

Ted Simons: They got the termination notice because the insurance company decided or I guess assessed the fact that this policy, whatever they had, was not up to minimum standards of the ACA?

Tara McCollum Plese: Correct. It didn't meet the ten essential benefits requirement under the ACA. So they got this notice. Now, it really would be up to that health plan to work with their customer to ensure that they get a different plan and many of those health plans are actually the same plans that are on the marketplace. So really it behooves many of these large commercial health plans to make sure that they get these people enrolled on the marketplace or in their private market. That they bring these for lack of a better word, their substandard policies up to a better policy that will cover more and have more benefits for these folks.

Ted Simons: There's a lot of negativity right now regarding the affordable care act, the signing up process, the whole nine yards. Obviously you have to deal with these people and help these folks and you're dealing through the affordable care act with grants but still, is that negativity justified?

Tara McCollum Plese: I would say in some situations, the criticism is justified. The negativity, no. I do not believe the negativity is justified. Because there are a lot of people who are really doing their best to ensure that everybody who needs and wants health care coverage receives that health care coverage whether it's Medicaid, whether it's the chip program for children, or the marketplace or private health insurance plan.

Ted Simons: I want to ask about Medicaid. Are you seeing a lot of folks, hearing from folks that wind up on access?

Tara McCollum Plese: We had in our system well over 11,000 people, that's just for AACHC, and over all I think that that is really about the area that we are right now with Medicaid. Well over 11,000 people in that month. A lot of it is because these people were dropped when there was a freeze on childless adults. They are probably the first to line up to reapply for Medicaid.

Ted Simons: I guess they are willing to go through whatever they have to to get what they once had. Good luck. November 30th, lots of sunshine and daffodils by November 30th, correct?

Tara McCollum Plese: I hope so. We're counting on it.

Ted Simons: We'll check back with you. Thanks for being here.

Tara McCollum Plese: Thank you.

Tara McCollum Plese:Senior Director of External Affairs, Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers;

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