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Updated Dec. 23, 2013, at 2:03 ET.
It took a lot of persistence on my part, but I finally was able to buy insurance through the Obamacare online marketplace. After a disastrous rollout, it’s working much better these days.
And even better, the new health plan I picked from the many options available is much more affordable than my current policy.
I made the Dec. 23 deadline for purchasing coverage that will begin on Jan. 1. Note: If you begin the process on HealthCare.gov on Dec. 23 but can’t successfully complete it, you’ll get another day to finish the application and still have coverage on Jan. 1. (Open enrollment in the state online marketplaces ends March 31.)
Let’s compare: My current policy, which expires on Dec. 31, has a $5,000 deductible and a $5,000 out-of-pocket maximum. For out of network, it’s a $7,500 deductible and $10,000 out-of-pocket maximum. It costs about $830 a month.
My new plan, the lowest priced bronze plan available in Montana for someone my age who smokes, costs $464 a month for a $3,950 deductible and a $6,350 out-of-pocket maximum. The limits are higher for out-of-network care.
Under both plans, preventive care like mammograms and colonoscopies are fully covered by the insurance company, as required by Obamacare. And because of Obamacare, neither plan can deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, which used to be the norm for people who buy individual insurance.
Like many Americans, I had a really difficult time getting access to the online marketplace at HealthCare.gov after it opened Oct. 1. (My state Legislature made the unfortunate decision not to set up our state’s own marketplace. The process worked much better in the 14 states that have their own.)
I started an application, but it wouldn’t save properly. And I was informed that my ID could only be verified by emailing a copy of my driver’s license or other ID. I did that several times, but nothing happened after that.
Once it was announced that most of the bugs had been fixed, I killed my old application and started anew. It still wouldn’t save properly, and a customer service rep completed the application for me over the phone.
I finally had access to the insurance plans offered in my state and I made a selection. Word to the wise: They’re complicated, but if you need help, you can call the companies with questions. I did.
Since HealthCare.gov opened for business, some changes have been made to the deadlines and rules. One was designed to accommodate those whose individual plans are being canceled because those plans don’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s requirements for basic health services. Those people will be exempt from the mandate to have insurance in 2014. Says Bloomberg:
People whose plans are canceled must apply to the government for a hardship exemption from the requirement to carry insurance and submit the letter they received from their current insurer. Once the government approves the exemption, they are eligible to purchase catastrophic plans, which usually have the lowest premium of any coverage sold on exchanges. The plans aren’t eligible for federal subsidies, meaning there’s no discount for the premium.
I have to wonder: Why would people not want a better health care plan than the one they have now – rather than a bare-bones catastrophic plan — particularly when buying a better plan on the marketplace could make them eligible for a subsidy, depending on their income.
You’re eligible if you earn between 138 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level. That’s $15,850 to $46,000 for an individual, and $32,500 to $94,200 for a family of four.
You’d get better insurance and you’d get help in the form of a tax credit to reduce the premiums – basically better insurance at a lower cost.
Few Americans affected
Of course, much of this is of no importance to most Americans. The majority get health insurance through their workplace or through a government program like Medicare, so they wouldn’t be using the marketplaces to buy individual insurance. Says the U.S. Census Bureau:
More than half of the U.S. population (55.1 percent) had employment-based health insurance coverage in 2011, and among the employed population aged 18 to 64, over two-thirds (68.2 percent) had health insurance through their own employer or another person’s employer.1 In addition, over one-third (34.7 percent) of individuals who did not work received coverage through employment-based health insurance, usually from a former employer or another person’s employer.
If you’re uninsured or you don’t get what’s considered affordable insurance through work, go to HealthCare.gov or your state’s own marketplace, if it has one. According to Reuters, more than 500,000 people have signed up to buy insurance through Obamacare since Oct. 1.
Have you tried to purchase health insurance on the marketplaces? Share your experience in the comments below or on our Facebook page.