CHEVERLY, MD. – As parts of Obamacare have been delayed and questions swirl about the implementation of key provisions, some lawmakers are sitting down for recess outreach efforts in their districts to promote the Affordable Health Care Act and health insurance exchange.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a strong supporter of President Obama’s healthcare law, discussed the new insurance exchange last Tuesday at a roundtable with healthcare providers in Prince George’s County. He participated in another roundtable last Monday at a community health center in Baltimore.
Insurance exchanges, a key component of the Affordable Healthcare Act, are online marketplaces that will allow individuals and small businesses to shop for health coverage starting Oct. 1.
States have the option of running their own exchanges or using one developed by the federal government. Maryland is one of more than a dozen states that have chosen to run their own exchanges. The state received more than $170 million in federal funds to build the Maryland Health Connection, the state’s health insurance exchange.
Implementation of Maryland’s new health insurance exchange will cost nearly $200 million.
Within the next couple of months, the Maryland Health Connection is expected to enroll about 200,000 of the more than 800,000 uninsured people in the state of Maryland, according to Cardin. The senator noted that three out of four people in Maryland purchasing coverage through the state’s insurance exchange would be eligible for tax credits to reduce the costs of coverage.
Over the next six months, millions of consumers from all 50 states will be able to shop for insurance options through the insurance exchanges, the administration is stressing in promotional efforts.
The Maryland Democrat alluded to opposition to the healthcare law’s implementation, particularly in states led by Republican governors and legislatures.
“Enrolling these Americans in health coverage won’t happen overnight. Unfortunately, not all states are as proactive as Maryland. Some states have been fighting the exchanges, but the federal government will step in and set them up,” Cardin said.
The federal government has to set up exchanges for individuals in the 34 states that have refused to create the exchanges.
In the last couple of months, the Obama administration has increased its efforts to advertise the insurance exchanges. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius visited Texas recently to enlist local leaders to promote the exchanges because state officials have refused to cooperate.
Cardin predicted that more states will choose to run their own exchanges as they realize they are not able to regulate the federal insurance exchange.
He said 150,000 people have already received hundreds of dollars in rebates from their insurance companies thanks to the state’s early implementation of Obamacare. Under the healthcare law, insurance companies that fail to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on care-related costs must refund the difference to consumers.
“This new law is here to stay and we should be working together to build on the progress we’ve made through the law,” Cardin said.
Cardin attributed the decline in healthcare costs in Maryland to ObamaCare’s implementation.
“The Affordable Care Act is already providing stable and secure coverage for Maryland families and slowing the growth of healthcare costs to provide Americans with better value, better options, and better health,” Cardin said.
Nevertheless, an estimate by the Altarum Institute and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that underlying economic conditions are responsible for 77 percent of the current health spending slowdown. Research conducted by a group of Harvard economists suggests that market choice and competition helped produce the deceleration in healthcare costs. President Obama, like Cardin, says he deserves most of the credit for the slowdown, even though according to these reports the deceleration began well before Obamacare passed in 2010.
“As we move closer to the initial enrollment period, we are learning that rates in Maryland are among the lowest in the nation and that Marylanders will have a wider choice of plans available to them,” Cardin said.
Last month, Maryland’s Insurance Commission touted the state’s proposed rates as some of the lowest in the nation, but according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office the least expensive Obamacare plan will be 83 percent higher than the least expensive plan under Maryland’s current system.
As the costs to consumers have increased, Maryland has proposed lowering rates by 29 percent to insurance companies. One of the nation’s largest insurers, Aetna, pulled out of Maryland’s insurance exchange earlier this month, citing that the lower rates would not allow the insurance carrier to collect enough premiums to cover the costs of the plans.
Cardin also said that states are facing challenges implementing the healthcare law because of the lack of a federal budget agreement and sequestration cuts.
On top of the federal funds received to set up the insurance exchange, Maryland’s federally qualified community health centers are expected to receive about $1.7 million under ObamaCare. The money is part of $150 million the Department of Health and Human Services will make available to health centers around the country. The funds will be used to hire new staff and train existing staff to help consumers navigate their new healthcare coverage options.
Community health centers generally serve low-income communities. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, the facilities provide healthcare services to more than 22 million patients in the U.S.
Obamacare is expected to expand access to community health centers through grants for renovations, new medical equipment, and construction projects.
“The health centers have really filled a void.” Cardin said. “But they are going to have to do a lot more,” he noted, in anticipation of the thousands of uninsured people who will be served by health centers once Obamacare comes into full effect.