Informed decisionmaking beats wandering in the dark. But the latter is where many North Carolina residents and businesses have been left when it comes to navigating the Affordable Care Act, the health overhaul program that launches a six-month sign-up period in only a few days.
The law is complex, especially for small or medium-sized businesses trying to determine their responsibility to provide health insurance coverage for employees or face fines. But state lawmakers’ attempt to deny the existence of “Obamacare” hasn’t helped clarify matters. By rejecting $27 million in federal aid that could have helped promote awareness of the ACA, they didn’t hurt the law itself — which has withstood court battles, numerous repeal votes in Congress and, now, a last, ill-considered attempt at defunding. Instead, their head-in-the-sand approach hurt the businesses and individuals who can’t simply act as if the law doesn’t exist. They now must comply with it, which means they need straightforward information.
Some of their frustration was evident Wednesday as local business people participated in an informational seminar with a Blue Cross-Blue Shield representative. BCBS and Coventry Health Care are the two insurers particpating in the state exchanges where individuals can compare policies and get information about the cost of different levels of coverage and whether subsidies will lower that cost. Although state officials could have partnered with the federal government in the exchange, they chose not to, just as they chose to reject funding that could have expanded Medicaid coverage for more of the state’s needy citizens. While all this was intended to signal their virulent opposition to the ACA, it delivered a different message to many constituents: You’re on your own here. Good luck and try to stay well.
Even worse, it may have discouraged broader participation by insurers that would have promoted the rate competition helping to lower premiums in other states. But at least N.C. naysayers haven’t tried to block the dissemination of information, as has occurred elsewhere. State health officials said this week that local social-service agencies can provide guidance to individuals trying to determine their options under the ACA. That will be especially helpful for lower-income residents, but others who buy their own insurance will need to be proactive in determining what’s available and what it costs, rather than simply listening to the pro and con debate that continues to rage.
The Affordable Care Act was duly passed by Congress and in all likelihood will still be standing come Jan. 1. Politicians here and in Washington can continue to deny that reality. North Carolinians in need of health insurance don’t have that luxury.