Prepping the Queue for Health Exchanges

Health exchanges will open October 1 for uninsured people to buy health insurance in a competitive marketplace under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And activity to prepare for this launch is building to a fever pitch.

All 50 states will have exchanges up and running: 27 will be run by the federal government, 15 states are running their own, and the remaining eight states have their own versions of a federal-state partnership to run their exchanges.

Some states that operate their own exchanges, like California and Maryland, already have call centers open to answer questions and help people start sorting their options. Others are working to get their call centers open in September. For example, Vermont, Connecticut, and Washington opened theirs this week.

Though the ACA (sometimes called Obamacare) remains a hotly debated partisan issue, plenty of activity is ramping up in both red and blue states to prepare for enrollment. Where state governments have been slow to act, coalitions of healthcare providers, businesses, insurers, bill collectors, and community groups have stepped in to promote enrollment through the exchanges.

State officials in Oklahoma, for instance, were doing little to prepare for the exchanges, so a coalition formed, calling itself Get Covered Oklahoma. Hospitals and healthcare providers hope to cut their costs for uncompensated care with more insured customers, while insurers hope to gain hundreds of thousands of new customers. Heather Hope-Hernandez, spokesperson for Get Covered Oklahoma, told USA Today:

The state isn’t doing it. The governor and insurance commissioner have been openly hostile to the Affordable Care Act. The attorney general is still trying to sue the federal government over it. Oklahoma has 700,000 uninsured people, or 19% of its population. About half qualify for subsidies to help pay for insurance.

One of the toughest challenges came in Ohio, where the Republican state legislature passed a law banning anyone not paid by the federal government from helping people navigate the system. Said Nita Carter of the Health Care Action Network of Ohio:

That was chilling. We were afraid that we wouldn’t be able to do assistance. We were trying to figure out how do we get the most troops on the ground to do face-to-face enrollment. If you don’t enroll them right away, you lose them.

But they’ve found a way, through a federal program, to train people and put them to work.

Vermont is rolling out a $2 million advertising blitz to promote “a new way to find a health plan — for Vermonters, by Vermonters.”

In any event, it should be quite a spectacle as the activity unfolds. One wonders if we’ll still be debating the merits a decade from now.

Or maybe, someday, we’ll just get down to the business of delivering good healthcare.

Click here and here to read more in USA Today. Click here to read more from NPR.

Queue, photograph © telmo32 / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.