Houstonians Confused About Twists And Turns Of Affordable Care Act

The launch day of the Affordable Care Act and the user has reached a page on Healthcare.gov which reads, "How do I get help in the Marketplace?" Photo by Lenard Smith
The final phase of the Affordable Care Act has been anything but smooth, starting with the failure of the federal insurance website when it debuted October first. And the confusion only increased this week with a surprise announcement from President Obama.

First came dismal enrollment numbers from the federal website, casting doubt on whether uninsured Americans would — or could — get coverage by January.

Then just a day later President Obama announced that individuals who thought they would have to update their health plans might not have to do that for another year. But that idea really depends on insurance companies playing along.

Mark Roden is an independent insurance broker here in Houston. He says now people are simply confused.

“I had neighbors coming to my door, and I’ve never had neighbors come to my door and ask me for help with their health insurance. People are scared.”

Roden says it wouldn’t be so bad if the news media — and even the President — stopped talking about “cancelled” policies.

They’re not cancelled, he says, they’re ending because they’re insufficient.

But insurance companies might not have made that clear to their policy holders.

“They were poorly worded letters. And they thought they were going to be set adrift in the ocean without anything. No, there’s new policies available for you. They may not be exactly what you need, but they’re the new policies, that’s just life.”

Roden says two neighbors of his were panicking because they were losing their current small business policy.

He showed them they could get new individual policies for less money, online.

“Anything dealing with insurance, people need hand-holding. It’s a complicated product. It’s not like shopping for a toaster or a coffee maker on Amazon.”

Roden had his own policy cancelled, but the replacement plan offered by his insurance company cost more.

So he shopped around and got a new plan – with the same deductible– for $1,100 a year less.

“Obamacare is working for me personally as a consumer.”   

Roden says people will feel less scared when the website starts working and they can actually compare prices and maybe even sign up for a subsidy.

He encouraged Houstonians to give the law a chance.

“I think we live in a society where we turn every little bump into a catastrophe. And a lot of it is just due to fear. People hate change. And so there’s some big change coming up and there’s a lot of fear surrounding it.”

It’s unclear if insurance companies in Texas will re-offer old plans that they had previously cancelled.

Insurance commissioners in some other states have said they won’t allow it. But the Texas Insurance Commissioner, Julia Rathgeber, says she will leave it up to the companies.

Advocacy groups like the Texas Organizing Project say consumers should be careful about going back to those old plans because they won’t have the built-in protections of the law.

New plans for 2014 will already have those protections built in.   

Consumers who need assistance with signing up for new health plans can use an independent broker like Roden at no extra charge. Visit nahu.org to find one. They can also use federally-funded navigators and consumer assisters in the Houston area. Click here to find a group. 

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...