For nearly three months, there has probably not been a bigger topic or issue nationally and locally than the Affordable Care Act and the marketplace website's rollout related to it. As positive elements like those with preexisting conditions no longer being denied coverage or those 26 and younger being able to be added to their parents' plans were being implemented over the last three plus years, the biggest element of the 2010 law that went into affect October 1st has been rocky at best. It has left President Barack Obama in a tricky spot as his administration has had to craft their messaging carefully as new developments have taken place related to the law. The government shutdown, as big of a deal and story that was, has almost been eroded in the wake of Congressional conversations and contrasting opinions from both sides of the political aisle and the overall situation that has emerged.
Beyond the website's technical issues during the first three months of the marketplace being open, the biggest adjustment for many has revolved around insurance companies dropping individuals from their coverage at the end of 2013 due to the Affordable Care Act. The moves by insurance companies has thrown one of President Obama's biggest promises related to the Affordable Care Act of people keeping their coverage if they liked it into serious question.
Like the rest of the country, thousands of those in the Garden State have been negatively impacted during this phase of the law.
This setback for New Jerseyans has led state Senator Nia Gill (D-34), the head of the state Senate Commerce Committee, has called upon the Christie administration to do better with educating those in the state about their options especially those who may lose or have lost their health insurance policies.
Earlier this month, Gill sent an invitation to Banking and Insurance Commissioner Kenneth Kobylowski to testify in Trenton at a hearing to discuss further the Christie administration's decision at the end of November to let insurance companies choose whether to renew 800,000 policies that were expected to be cancelled in 2014 since they did not meet the minimum coverage requirements for the Affordable Care Act. While there is certainly room for improvement by the President and Congress to tweak the Affordable Care Act to better suit insurance companies and policies. However, there has not been enough attention on poor insurance policies being weeded out and just as bad as it is to be or feel underemployed; being poorly insured was a weakness with the country's healthcare system.
Thus, Gill was hoping to put pressure on Christie and Kobylowski and others to be more proactive with educating consumers on their options while they could still plan ahead to avoid being left without any coverage as well as a way to get re-insured.
As Kobylowski has outlined, insurance companies are legally required to give 90 days notice before someone's policy is cancelled.
He would add,
We maintain a robust consumer call center. Our department's role is to be a source of information for consumers who contact us if they had questions in general about where can I go and who is offering insurance in the state. We have done that.
That led Gill to respond by stating,
That does not absolve you -- you have a statutory duty to educate and protect consumers. Consumers may not even be aware of what is going on.
After insurance companies began to reach out individuals about the future of their coverage, President Obama implored governors and state insurance commissioners to preserve current policies for a year and he would waive some of the law's requirements. At least 22 states have said they would encourage such an approach while 21 others have said it was too late or they simply did not want to stand in the way of insurance companies' cancellations.
After getting back information from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Serviced, Kobylowski concluded that 110,000 of the cheapest policies offered under the "basic and essential" plan in New Jersey would be cancelled because they did not meet the federal government's rules and there were no talks of waiving them to allow the rates to remain affordable.
Because of federally required changes to the pre-existing plans, it is anticipated that health insurance costs will increase for New Jersey consumers who are able to continue plans under the federal policy. Choice has long been a cornerstone of the American insurance industry. Mandating specific coverage levels removes that choice.
Gill would be undeterred in wanting answers and better assistance for New Jerseyans regardless of what Kobylowski was telling her.
She would exclaim,
We will continue to explore the impact of the department’s decision. This is not the end of our conversation. We must wait for the decisions from the insurance companies and we will work to ensure the state and insurers provide the transparency that is needed so New Jersey consumers can be educated about their health care options.
Gill has not been alone in calling upon Governor Christie to do more. Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ6) is calling for Christie to use the $7.5 million available under the Affordable Care Act for outreach to help get people signed up for healthcare via the marketplace.
As Pallone would outline,
It is critical that you take action on behalf of New Jersey families to find appropriate ways to spend the approximately $7.5 million that the state has access to. While this money may not be enough to reach each and every family in need, it can be a great start in telling New Jerseyans about their health coverage options. Any further delay in this outreach could cost many families the ability to get coverage by January 1, 2014. While the federal marketplace enrollment period will end on March 31, 2014, families must sign up by December 23, 2013 in order to get coverage on the first day of the New Year.
That 23rd deadline has been adjusted to the 24th and then the end of December in order to alleviate any website issues and ensure all those who are trying to register and get healthcare by January 1st can obtain it.
Christie chose not to operate a state-run exchange. Instead, he pushed the responsibility onto the federal government to operate it based on his concerns and potential uncertainties.
The calls by Gill and Pallone should not be viewed as empty rhetoric by Christie as he has a chance to do what he has rarely done during his time as governor and that is work with Democrats to address a major concern or issue for New Jersey. While nothing can universally be solved or made better per say; working with insurance companies and those negatively alike to ensure education is provided on the marketplace and their options as a whole while seeing what the federal government can do within the constraints of the Affordable Care Act.
As January 1st nears, this matter is nearly another climax and the next developments in New Jersey and nationally will be taking place. Gill and Pallone will likely continue to be active as they work to educate New Jerseyans and assist them on this very important matter.