Obamacare event draws nearly 100

  • Posted: Friday, November 15, 2013 11:40 p.m.
    UPDATED: Friday, November 15, 2013 11:41 p.m.
Odessa Davis reviews Blue Cross Blue Shield plans with Carolina Health Insurance Market agent Scott Cantrell on Friday. Davis was looking for a plan that fits her budget and provides her with insurance coverage.
Odessa Davis reviews Blue Cross Blue Shield plans with Carolina Health Insurance Market agent Scott Cantrell on Friday. Davis was looking for a plan that fits her budget and provides her with insurance coverage.

SALISBURY — Health insurance companies turned down Odessa Davis three times last year because she has a pre-existing condition.

Davis, who has not had health insurance since a COBRA policy expired in 2012, avoided going to the doctor unless absolutely necessary and skipped several procedures, including a mammogram.

“I did go to the doctor once,” she said. “I paid for it, but it was a struggle. The doctor wanted me to come back in September but I didn’t have the money, so I have been putting it off.”

After surviving a car accident years ago that nearly took her life, Davis, who spent several days in the intensive care unit, said she worried all year about getting sick.

“So to have insurance, yeah, it would have meant the world,” she said.

Davis, a single mother and temporary employee who works 40 hours a week, found out Thursday she now qualifies for health insurance and, thanks to a hefty subsidy paid by the federal government, she also can afford it.

Davis attended the Obamacare enrollment event at the Civic Center with about 100 other people and shopped for health insurance.

She found a policy for $201 a month with a $3,000 in-network deductible. She will pay $25 every time she visits a primary care doctor and $45 per appointment when she needs a specialist.

“This is lower than what I thought,” said Odessa, who was prepared for prices in the $400-a-month range, which she said she could not afford. “Really, I am pleasantly surprised.”

She could not actually sign up for her new policy because the government’s troubled website, healthcare.gov, was down.

But working with insurance broker Scott Cantrell from Carolina Health Insurance Market, Davis learned that she qualified for a monthly subsidy of about $400, shopped for insurance online, compared several policies — the cheapest would have been $112 a month and the priciest $484 a month — and chose one.

Cantrell created an account for Davis on the Obamacare website, and Davis filled out a paper application that Cantrell said he will enter into the site when it’s up and running. They will complete her application on the phone.

As long as she makes her first premium payment by Dec. 15, Davis will have health insurance by Jan. 1.

“This is peace of mind, most definitely,” she said.

Cantrell said Davis’ experience was “pretty typical.”

About two out of three customers qualify for a subsidy of some kind, and most are pleased with the rates, Cantrell said. People who earn between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level — 400 percent is $62,040 for a couple or $94,200 for a family for four, for example — qualify for subsidies that will offset the cost of buying health insurance.

Not everyone left Thursday as satisfied as Davis.

Many people discovered they are in the “gap,” among about 500,000 people in North Carolina who do not make enough money to qualify for a subsidy.

These people were supposed to be covered by Medicaid, but the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, could not force states to expand their Medicaid programs.

So North Carolina, along with many other states, declined to expand the safety net, leaving many unable to afford a policy.

People who would have been covered by the Medicaid expansion will not face penalties for not having insurance, like other Americans.

With few exceptions, everyone in the country is required to have health insurance by March 31, although Cantrell said he would not be surprised if the deadline is extended due to the website’s failure.

Cantrell was one of more than a dozen brokers at Thursday’s event, hosted by Novant Health.

Novant financial counselors helped people determine if they should apply for Medicaid as the program stands, apply for a subsidy through Obamacare, or if they fall into the gap.

For those in the gap, Novant had representatives present from free and low-cost clinics like the Community Care Clinic and Rowan County Health Department.

The Department of Social Services screened people to determine if they qualify for Medicaid.

Arlene Ferebee, director of strategic development for Novant in Charlotte, said the turnout of 98 people was “far better than we imagined.”

Ferebee said she didn’t know how many shopped for insurance in the marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act.

Insurance policies in the marketplace cost the same whether people sign up on their own or use a broker.

“The marketplace has caused a lot of confusion as a result of the technical difficulties,” Ferebee said.

Many people came to the event just to gather information, she said.

A video ran throughout the event with basics about Obamacare, and a broker answered questions from people waiting to see a broker or get help from an agency.

No one was able to get all the way to the end on healthcare.gov, “but several people got very close and are prepared to take that next step,” Ferebee said.

Salisbury’s event was the fifth and final Novant enrollment session for 2103.

“This has shown us that there is a real need, and with the deadline March 31, we feel like we will come back and do a second wave of outreach events in late February or early March,” she said. “We feel that it’s our obligation and aligns very well with our mission as an organization to be a resource to the communities that we serve.”

Davis said she had heard horror stories about Obamacare but was pleasantly surprised with her coverage and cost.

After growing up in Salisbury and graduating from Livingstone College, Davis lived in Washington, D.C. for years and worked as a data analyst.

She moved back to Salisbury after her only child, Jeryon, was born.

“I stayed in Salisbury and worked low-paying and dead-end jobs because I didn’t want to leave him,” Davis said. “I didn’t want to work in Charlotte and be driving two hours a day.”

Raising a child on her own “has been an amazing journey, and it has been a challenge,” Davis said.

She hasn’t had to worry about health insurance for Jeryon, who is vice president of the senior class at Salisbury High School and hopes to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The 17-year-old has coverage through an existing government program.

And now, Davis said, she doesn’t have to worry about health insurance for herself, either.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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