ELKHART — It’s been a rough few weeks for the Affordable Care Act.
President Obama’s controversial health care overhaul, also known as Obamacare, faces withering criticism because of the flawed roll-out of the online insurance marketplace, where you’re supposed to be able to get health coverage.
Many with individual health insurance plans face the cancellation of their policies at year’s end because of Obamacare requirements. In Indiana, 108,000 people will see their plans eliminated, despite earlier promises from Obama that if you liked your health plan, you’d be able to keep it.
Republican U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, continue to sound the call to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Still, not everyone has lost hope. Dawn Wells, a full-time employee at a convenience store here that doesn’t offer health insurance, thinks Obamacare — more specifically, the possibility of subsidized insurance from the online marketplace — may be her salvation.
The critics who are lobbing firebombs at Obamacare “haven’t walked in my shoes,” said Wells, who’s in the process of applying for coverage via the online marketplace, www.healthcare.gov. “For them, their insurance is a given. For me, it isn’t.”
They may be quiet, they may not automatically command attention, but there’s a contingent out there hoping Obamacare and the online marketplace, despite its flaws, gives them a means to secure health insurance. Wells fits the profile of many potential marketplace beneficiaries — she works and earns more than the federal poverty level, though not by a lot, and can’t tap insurance through her job.
“Yeah, I’m what you would call the working poor,” said the woman, one of perhaps 11,000 people in Elkhart County who might be able to secure care on the exchanges.
Accordingly, she’s crossing her fingers as she awaits word on her application, hoping for affordable coverage that assists her with the hundreds of dollars in medication she needs each month to deal with pain and other issues. Wells, 53 and divorced, has relied on Indiana’s Healthy Indiana Plan, or HIP — geared to uninsured adults — but she won’t qualify per changes that go in effect Jan. 1 because her income level is too high.
“It’s like if I had a choice between a place to stay and insurance I’d choose insurance,” she said from her spartan Dunlap area apartment, located in a large, relatively new complex. “It’s the most important thing for me.”
TECHNICAL ISSUES, FRUSTRATION, OPTIMISM
There are many who would theoretically be able to secure subsidized plans via the online marketplace, geared to people making roughly 100 to 400 percent of the poverty level who don’t have insurance through work. The income range represents single people earning roughly $11,500 to $46,000 a year or families of four with annual household incomes of around $23,500 to $94,200.
Of the 800,000 or so people in Indiana without insurance, around half would potentially be able to get care on the exchanges, according to David Roos, head of South Bend-based Covering Kids and Families, which encourages enrollment in state insurance programs. In Elkhart County, of the 32,853 lacking insurance, about 11,000 would be able to use the exchanges, according to figures from EnrollAmerica.org, formed to promote coverage via Obamacare.
First, though, you’ve got to apply on www.healthcare.gov, and given all the technical issues with the website, formally launched Oct. 1, that’s been a sticking point for many, even Wells. Just 15,982 applications for health plans offered via the marketplace had been completed statewide in Indiana as of Nov. 2, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and just 701 Hoosiers had signed up for plans.
Visiting Heart City Health Center here last Monday, Nov. 18, Wells, aided by Menessah Nelson, found that her application for health coverage still hadn’t been reviewed to determine if she’d qualify for subsidies to offset the cost of marketplace coverage. She had submitted the application a week earlier.
“We’ve given them a week and I don’t see anything here,” said Nelson, reviewing Wells’ www.healthcare.gov account with the woman. Nelson is one of several employees specially trained to help the public apply via the online marketplace at Heart City, a nonprofit health clinic geared to the uninsured.
There’s a definite frustration threshold that can easily be reached when dealing with the glitches of www.healthcare.gov, as Nelson sees it. Wells, even, expressed uncertainty about how aggressively she would have pursued her application on www.healthcare.gov without the help of the likes of Nelson.
“I hate computers. Have I told you how much I hate computers?” said Wells, who was clued in to the help available at Heart City via a friend at the YWCA.
Still, she expressed optimism that the hiccups will be worked out, eventually. “I think ultimately it’s going to be a good program,” she said.
‘I FAVOR INSURANCE’
Wells, now at her apartment, supposes she could quit her job. Maybe lack of income, she says tongue in cheek, would enable her to tap a longer-standing health insurance program geared to the poorest of the poor, a Medicaid offering, perhaps.
She wants to work, though, likes her job, even if the hourly rate barely scratches above $10. Even if health care isn’t part of the benefits package.
“I love people,” Wells said. She’s developed friendships with the regulars who come in to the convenience store, where she’s worked for nine years. She knows which ones have kids, even talks about their weekend pursuits with them.
If not quitting, maybe she could just go without health care, go without the medicine she needs, let her health go. Ultimately, she suspects, she’d be unable to work because of pain and other ailments and she’d end up becoming a public charge, totally reliant on public assistance.
“What do they want me — on the dole, so to speak?” Wells said. As is, having lost her HIP coverage, she’s able to buy only a fraction of the medicine she needs.
It wasn’t always like this. When she was married, Wells, the mother of five, had insurance through her husband. Before that, when she worked in a factory, she had coverage through her job.
Asked if she favors Obamacare, she answers another way.
“I favor insurance, I favor health care insurance,” Wells said. “That is my ultimate — everyone should have insurance. We need it.”
Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack.