By Michaela Gibson Morris
TUPELO – After a stumbling start, health advocates hope the health insurance exchange will deliver options for Mississippians.
“We consider the glitches unacceptable,” said Roy Mitchell, executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, “but so is the idea of leaving thousands of Mississippians without access to health insurance.”
A key piece of the Affordable Care Act, the online health insurance marketplace allows for consumers to shop for insurance. For those who can’t receive affordable insurance through their employers, there are tax credit subsidies for families making up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
During the first weeks of the rollout, the healthcare.gov website was overwhelmed, making it impossible to assist with online sign up for Melissa Kuykendall, outreach and enrollment coordinator with Access Family Health Care, a community health center with facilities in Tupelo, Smithville, Houlka and Tremont.
“This is the first week I’ve been able to get on the site,” Kuykendall said last week.
Most people have been focused on gathering information.
“I’ve had tons and tons of calls with every question imaginable,” Kuykendall said. “Everybody wants to test the water.”
Mississippi Health Advocacy has seen broad interest in the exchange across the state, but many are not comfortable with comparison shopping online in the marketplace.
“A lot of people want in-person assistance,” Mitchell said.
The HealthHelp, a hotline operated by the health advocacy program – (877) 314-3842 – can offer consumers some assistance, and navigator programs are coming online around the state.
Cover MS, a coalition of health and community organizations led by the healthadvocacy program, are holding events around the state to make sure Mississippians are informed about their options for accessing health insurance through the exchange.
There are nearly two months left for consumers to purchase insurance on the exchange to have insurance in place Jan. 1. Public health advocates estimate 275,000 Mississippians will buy health insurance through the exchange by the time open enrollment ends March 31.
Plans for region
In Northeast Mississippi, residents in all but two counties will have a choice among several plans from Ambetter by Magnolia Health on the exchange. The rates vary slightly because the counties cover two different community ratings areas.
Unsubsidized monthly premiums for the least expensive silver plan for nonsmokers are $264 and $280 for 27-year-olds, $449 and $478 for 50-year-olds and $892 and $948 for families.
Residents in Tishomingo and Alcorn counties will have options offered by Humana. Its monthly premiums for the least expensive silver plan run $295 for a 27 year old, $504 for 50 year old and $1,000 for a family.
However, the majority of Mississippians will qualify for tax credit subsidies. Based on calculators from the Kaiser Family Foundation, an individual making $20,000 annually would receive a maximum subsidy of $1,021 and pay an annual premium between $2,045 and $2,238 after subsidies.
A family of four with a household income of $40,000, would receive a maximum credit of $1,965 and would pay an annual premium between $8,062 and $8,692.