State health-care rollout smoother than federal

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Despite the turbulent rollout of the national Obamacare website, Colorado’s version is going a bit smoother.

“The Colorado website has had a few stumbling blocks, but it’s doing pretty well now,” said Sarah Thoemke, outreach coordinator for Doctors Care clinic in Littleton and a designated “health-care guide” for Connect for Health.

Indeed, it fired right up for her demonstration at Arapahoe Community College Nov. 19. Explaining that it’s not necessary to create an account to browse the site, she plugged in her name and some made-up numbers to give an overview of the process.

“It’s really pretty darned intuitive,” she said.

Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act, means anyone without employer-sponsored health insurance or a private plan must obtain coverage or face a fine of $95 next year, with that amount going up each year thereafter.

The ACA mandates free preventive care, lets kids stay on their parents’ policies until age 26, bans insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and requires plans to include mental-health care and maternity services, among other things.

That last one has been a sticking point for some, Thoemke acknowledges, and has caused some people to lose plans they liked because they didn’t cover all the bases. Adding the coverage increased expenses, argue some insurance carriers, so they canceled the plans altogether.

“Some people are having an issue with having to pay for some of those things when they don’t need them,” said Thoemke. “It could get tweaked.”

The U.S. Census reports about 98,000 people in Arapahoe County are uninsured. According to data compiled by the South Metro Health Alliance, nearly 50,000 of them will remain uninsured even after the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented. Undocumented residents are included in that figure, as are people who won’t be able to afford it even with tax subsidies and those who simply choose to pay the fine instead.

But for those who do want insurance, www.connectforhealthco.com is a starting place, allowing them to find out first if they qualify for expanded Medicaid services. If so, they must accept it or pay full price for a private plan, explained Thoemke.

If not, consumers might still qualify for tax subsidies or cost-sharing incentives to purchase one of about 150 private plans from recognizable carriers like Kaiser and Anthem, among others, which they can compare side by side and filter by carriers, levels of coverage, etc.

Thoemke plugged in an annual salary of $27,000, which brought up plans starting at around $150 a month. But there are a lot of variables that can affect the final numbers, she said.

“The only way to really understand this is to go online and apply,” she said. “It is a lot to go through.”

One tricky thing is that the quote is based on the consumer’s own prediction of what their 2014 income will be. If you qualify for tax subsidies and guess too low, you’ll owe money back. But the site syncs with IRS data, so glaring discrepancies should be caught, said Thoemke.

The deadline to sign up for coverage to begin on Jan. 1 is Dec. 15, and the final deadline is March 31 for coverage to start in May. Help is available to navigate the site from health-care guides like Thoemke. She can be reached at 720-458-6185 or coverassist@doctorscare.org.

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