Purchase photos

Blue Cross offers ACA options

10/29/2013

By GORDON D. FIEDLER JR.

Special to The Hays Daily News

SALINA -- Kansans interested in obtaining health insurance mandated by the Affordable Care Act and who have been frustrated by the seemingly inoperable federal website don't have to wait until it's fixed.

Representatives of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas told about 75 people at one of its series of statewide ACA informational meetings, this one Monday night at the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce annex, that the BCBS website is up and functioning and ready to go.

That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that plans bought from BCBS directly don't qualify for any tax credit, but, once the federal website, healthcare.gov, is repaired and working, consumers can buy the same policy through the federal site and then become eligible for the tax breaks.

The deadline for buying a policy is March 31, 2014, and BCBS officials sounded optimistic the federal site will be working well before then.

Another feature of the act is that shoppers eligible for a tax credit don't have to take the full amount and risk a penalty if the credit doesn't match household income.

"If you know your income is going to change in the middle of the year, you don't have to take the whole tax credit," said Rusty Doty, director of sales for BCBS.

He said it can work like adjusting a person's income tax withholding.

Doty and BCBS representative Sunee Mickle walked the audience through several scenarios, from young singles to small business owners to individuals nearing retirement.

Doty and Mickle stressed that Medicare and Medicaid are unaffected by the ACA and that people already on those federal programs need not switch plans.

Those who are not of age or at an income level to qualify and don't have insurance now will, with a number of exceptions, be required to have insurance by the March 31 signup deadline.

That includes young, healthy individuals who perhaps felt no need to pay for insurance before. It is the money from this healthy population that in theory is supposed to balance out for insurance companies, who now are mandated to cover sick individuals and those with pre-existing conditions that before they could or refuse to insure altogether.

That might not happen for a while, said Mary Beth Chambers, manager of corporate communications for BCBS.

The penalty for non-compliance is less that $100 for the first year and companies belive that's a large enough financial incentive. The penalty increases each year and eventually becomes substantial.

"Insurance companies now are thinking that the new pool of people is likely to have more sick people than healthy people to balance it out," Chambers said.

But as the penalties increase, so may the enrollees.

"If the pool truly includes the healthy people to balance the sick people, that we hope will stabilize premiums," she said.

But insurance premiums are only one factor in the healthcare equation, she said.

"The biggest driver of premiums is the cost of healthcare," Chambers said. "As more Americans need more services and as the cost of those services continue to increase because providers want to be paid more, that's really the biggest thing that contributes to premium costs."