State health-care exchange up and running
More than 34,500 people tried to look at the website in the first three hours after it opened at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, creating some glitches and slowdowns, according to state administrators.
Of the users who stuck it out on the first day, 1,300 created accounts to buy health insurance through the website, according to administrators.
In its first two days of operation, 107,000 people visited the state site, and 8,400 created accounts. About 6,400 computer users called customer service representatives to get additional help.
No specific information is available yet on how many of the people who created accounts on the website actually bought insurance. State administrators have estimated that about 500,000 Colorado residents are uninsured.
The nonprofit website was created as part of the Affordable Care Act – commonly known as “Obamacare” – passed by Congress in 2010.
Uninsured people who sign up for a health-insurance plan on the website are eligible for tax incentives, depending on their incomes. Americans who don’t sign up for health insurance will be penalized on their tax returns in the future.
Open enrollment on the website runs through March, with insurance coverage starting Jan. 1. If you buy insurance on the website by the 15th day of any given month before March, it will go into effect on the first day of the next month. If you answer a few simple questions, the website can tell you if you’ll save money by signing up for insurance.
Private health-insurance companies got more than 150 insurance plans approved to be sold on the website, according to the Colorado Division of Insurance.
In general, state administrators have not discussed specific insurance prices and plans, other than to say that they vary widely. A shopper is offered a variety of plans and price ranges, based on the level of coverage, his or her age and whether he or she uses tobacco products, among other things.
Individuals who make from $11,490 to $45,960 would be eligible for a tax credit, according to federal income guidelines, while a family of four could report household income of up to $94,200 and be eligible for a tax credit. People must buy health insurance through the website to be eligible for the tax credit. Individuals without health insurance will be charged a tax penalty of $95 in 2014.
If you own a small business, have fewer than 25 employees and pay them less than $50,000 per year, you may also receive federal tax credits to help offset their premiums. Nonprofits also can receive tax credits if employees sign up through the program. The website has a Small Business Tax Calculator that can display your potential company savings.
Companies with more than 50 employees have until Jan. 1, 2015, to offer health insurance, after the Obama administration extended the deadline for the program. If they don’t, they’ll be taxed $2,000 per employee. Companies with fewer than 50 employees are not mandated to offer coverage.
A recent national survey by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a libertarian think tank, indicates that Colorado will see health insurance premiums for residents go down 34 percent, now that online health insurance exchanges are running. Premiums are expected to go down in four other states, too, and to go up in the rest of the United States, based on think tank research.
In Colorado, a 30-year-old nonsmoking man could buy health-insurance coverage as low as $56 per month at the beginning of the year, for example, according to American Action Forum. Now that the website is running, the lowest-cost insurance option available is $157.02 per month, a 180 percent increase, according to Mike Danylak, a spokesman for the think tank.
Colorado administrators have said that tax incentives may make up the cost differences. You can calculate your specific costs once you go on the website.
At the same time, budget battles between Congress and the White House related to the Affordable Care Act have not affected the state exchanges. While the federal government is shut down, the state exchanges – including Connect for Health Colorado – continue to operate with previously funded grants.
Beth Potter can be reached at 303-630-1944 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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