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Viewpoint

Yes, the ACA (a.k.a. Obamacare) is really working

Health insurance reform through the Affordable Care Act is working. Not a week goes by that I don’t see a Facebook posting, or talk to an acquaintance who’s self-employed, who tells me their happy status of now being insured because of Obamacare. These are folks who were previously shut out of health insurance because they worked part-time, were self-employed, had pre-existing conditions, or simply could not afford it. Now, with the Marketplace, the new rules about guaranteed issue and no pre-existing conditions, and the subsidies available for moderate income earners, people are signing up and getting coverage.

In New Hampshire enrollment numbers have been great and are consistently performing well against the national benchmarks. “We are greatly outperforming expectations and are set to break our goal of over 19,000 enrollment by March 31,” a spokesman from CoveringNewHampshire.org told me on March 11.

In fact reports later that day put New Hampshire at over 21,000! Nationally, while the ACA certainly had a lousy launch, the website Healthcare.gov is now functioning effectively, and national estimates put the number of enrollees between 4 and 5 million people. States that embraced the ACA early, and built strong websites, such as California, New York, and Kentucky, are having the most success. The percentage of uninsured in the U.S. has been reported by Gallup to have dropped from 17.1 percent to 15.9 percent in just a three-month period, bucking a decades-long trend of increasing numbers. The strong numbers of New Hampshire enrollees shows how great the need has been, in spite of legislative road blocks put in place a couple of years ago. Prohibition against a state-based exchange, and delayed acceptance of grants to cover marketing efforts of our state’s insurance department, left us with an uncertain insurance environment. This is probably a major factor as to why there is only one carrier, Anthem, in our Marketplace. New Hampshire’s very informative marketing website, CoveringNewHampshire.org, wasn’t able to launch until December 24, 2013.

Although the narrow network of the Anthem plan may be annoying or inconvenient to some, it has meant that Anthem was able to keep its premiums about 25 percent lower that they might have been. This will also be a temporary problem. More insurance companies are expected to enter the Marketplace by 2015.

About Medicaid Expansion: A bill has passed in the N.H. Senate, and last week was heard in the House, that will allow the expansion of coverage to another 50,000 residents at or below poverty level, by using federal Medicaid funds to buy private insurance. By not passing legislation last fall, New Hampshire has lost $40 million into our economy, half a million a day, since Jan. 1. That could have been covering those eligible, many of whom work minimum wage jobs — and pay payroll taxes!

The end of job-lock

The ACA has meant the end of job-lock. What’s that? For a long time, I’d encountered families in New Hampshire where one spouse was self-employed, and the other had the health-care job, because the cost of buying insurance as a small business was too expensive. Often that spouse felt locked into that full-time job because her family would not have health coverage otherwise. These families often put infants and small children in costly daycare, rather than work part-time and/or stay home.

The ACA now means that these families can be certain of coverage tailored to their income level, and they can make clear decisions about how much time to dedicate to work and to family.

The cancellation myth

First, every insurance contract is for one year. Insurance products change every year. In the past, if you wanted to keep the same insurance coverage as last year, it often meant a double-digit percentage premium increase. If you wanted to keep roughly the same premium, you often had to double your out-of-pocket costs. Due to the ACA, the coverage required under new insurance policies meets a new standard, including more primary care at no cost, and limiting out-of-pocket expenses.

News reports doing follow-ups on individuals claiming their policies got cancelled and their premiums skyrocketed regularly find that those people did find much better coverage at lower costs due to subsidies, once they shopped the Marketplace.

Enrollment deadline March 31

Two weeks left to enroll. How? CoveringNewHampshire.org is our state’s website for all kinds of information about enrolling in the ACA. Here you can find out about the plans available, financial assistance, and start enrollment. There are links to finding help, to contacting In-Person Assisters (The River Center in Peterborough is one location), and almost daily events state-wide for application assistance. There’s no reason to be uninsured anymore. You can’t be denied. It will be affordable. Do it for your own peace of mind.

Jill Shaffer Hammond is in her third term representing Peterborough in the New Hampshire House.

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