ELKHART — Deborah Cutler is well aware of the white-hot controversy swirling around Obamacare.
Even so, she's grateful for the coverage available on the health care exchange created per the health care overhaul, also known as the Affordable Care Act.
"It's so much better," the Elkhart woman said, comparing the plan she signed up for on the exchange to the private plan she used to have. "There's no comparison."
As the deadline to sign up for care on the Obamacare exchange looms, more and more are enrolling for coverage, like Cutler. The last-minute enrollees are taxing the services of groups providing assistance in the process — groups such as Heart City Health Center and Elkhart General Hospital here locally. And the push is generating strong — and mixed — sentiments, as Obamacare has all along.
Enrollees such as Cutler and Gina Leichty of Goshen, among the 64,972 in Indiana who had signed up for coverage as of March 1, are unabashedly upbeat, notwithstanding the patience and effort required to finally enroll. Six million in all had signed up for coverage across the country as of Thursday, March 27, according to the Obama administration, matching revised government projections.
"We have a lower deductible, our overall plan coverage has increased, the policy is affordable and we are glad to know it meets the minimum standards of acceptable health care," Leichty said in an email. With the private plan she had previously, she was "way overpaying" for scant coverage.
But criticism of Obamacare is alive and well.
U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, for one, blasted the Obama Administration's announcement that the enrollment deadline, originally next Monday, March 31, will be extended. Those who have started an application as of Monday will now have until mid-April to complete the process, an accommodation stemming from the heavy last-minute traffic on the online Obamacare exchange, healthcare.gov, Reuters reported.
"The latest Obamacare delay is just further evidence of why individuals should receive the same exemption the administration already has given to businesses," the Republican senator from Indiana said in a statement this week. Coats has been a fierce Obamacare critic, arguing that the mandate effective last Jan. 1 calling on individuals to have health care coverage should be extended, as happened earlier with the mandate calling on employers to provide coverage to their workers.
More broadly, he argued for an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, saying it neither makes health care more affordable nor increases access to care, the overarching aims of the multi-pronged measure. He's pushing "to replace the failing parts of Obamacare with real reforms that would benefit Hoosier families," Coats said.
Care offered on the exchange is geared to the self-employed, i.e. Cutler and Leichty, part-timers and workers who don't get employer-provided coverage, among others. It's not meant for those in the lowest-income brackets, who can potentially tap Medicaid, or those 65 and older, who can tap Medicare.
Cutler, who recently launched a pet-sitting business and has no alternative for coverage other than the exchange, acknowledges that Obamacare isn't without fault. But it's a starting point. At least Obama is taking concrete steps to initiate change.
When you do something new such as overhaul the national health care system, "it's not usually perfect," she said. There are many places where it can be improved, but it's "a huge step forward."
The germane point is that she now has coverage she can trust. The individual plan she had before — "almost like a rip-off" — provided next-to-no coverage, at $139 per month. Doctors visits, given its scant provisions, cost "an arm and a leg and there wasn't any end in site."
The new plan, costing $148 a month thanks to the credits she receives based on her income level, allows more reasonably priced visits to her doctor, thanks to predetermined co-pays, deductibles and a cap on out-of-pocket expense. She doesn't have to nervously worry whether a medical consultation will break the bank.
Leichty, partner in a Goshen marketing firm, said the bigger issue is whether Obamacare will lead to even wider health care reform in the United States, more specifically a single-payer system. That's a controversial type of system under which a single public entity oversees health care management, perhaps via a single national insurance program.
"I believe the marketplace is a step in the right direction, but until we have universal health care for every person in this country, we have a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the world," Leichty wrote.
The good words of Cutler and Leichty notwithstanding, efforts to finally enroll in plans required loads of patience and time. Both had to finally call health exchange experts to sort through the process. The website's technical issues have been addressed, at least partially, but Cutler said understanding the finer points of the actual insurance offerings is complicated.
"It was like having a job," said Cutler, describing the time she dedicated to enrolling. "It was like having a full-time job."