WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – Early enrollment for President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became available Tuesday across the country, and Westchester County residents will have to "hunt" for new information regarding the coverage and how it affects them.
Local insurance brokers, tax advisors, attorneys, employers and employees all have to determine how it impacts their current plans moving forward before the act, referred to as “Obamacare,” goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
Gary Forbes of Forbes Insurance in Katonah said Obamacare was “a whole different animal” and a “nightmare for insurance agencies to figure out.”
“Having experience in this for a number of years, I knowing what the problems are (in the insurance industry),” he said. “And I’m not so sure this (Obamacare) fixes them. Right now we’re advising our clients to stand pat and see how this shakes out.”
Forbes said New Yorkers already had a lot of the insurance features Obamacare offers.
“Obamacare brings new features into the mix for people who couldn’t afford them before, and you don’t find a lot of that here,” he said. “The success of this new plan will depend on young people enrolling in it – and I’m not sure I see that happening.”
Forbes Insurance partner Christopher Radding said one of the purposes of Obamacare – to create competition and lower prices – has yet to be seen in Westchester County because the only company offering its exchange is United Heatlh Care. He also said the amount of new information being brought into the industry is creating a “tremendous amount of labor” for those being relied on to explain the changes to clients.
“A lot of training is required. It’s definitely labor intensive,” he said. “I think it will create opportunities for the people who are ready to dive into it and put the time in to understand it. Those who aren’t willing to do that will get left behind. It’s a game changer.”
If first impressions are any indication, Obamacare will continue to be a controversial topic. The homepage for information and early enrollment, http://www.HealthBenefitExchange.ny.gov, was riddled by heavy amounts of traffic early Tuesday. State officials said over 2 million hits in the site’s first two hours were the cause for technical difficulties and the issues has since been sorted out.
However, Radding said the website is a concern, whether it’s running smoothly or not.
“The website they put out isn’t very good,” he said. “You have to hunt for the information you’re looking for. It’s a ton of added stress on brokers and small business owners who need to spend hours researching this stuff.”
Obamacare has been a polarizing matter ever since it was passed on March 23, 2010. Public concerns include whether premium costs will be higher or lower compared with customers’ existing policies, and whether or not confusion regarding mandatory changes to the U.S. health care system gets sorted out. Here are some policies of the new health insurance’s coverage:
- Under the Affordable Care Act, if your plan covers children, you can now add or keep your children on your health insurance policy until they turn 26 years old.
- You and your family may be eligible for some important preventive services - which can help you avoid illness and improve your health - at no cost to you.
- The Affordable Care Act includes benefits to make your Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D) more affordable.
- Under the Affordable Care Act, health plans cannot limit or deny benefits or deny coverage for a child younger than 19 simply because the child has a "pre-existing condition" - that is, a health problem that developed before the child applied to join the plan.
Radding said that while it was too early to declare the plan as a success or failure, Obamacare’s first day did nothing to quiet its doubters.
“We’ll see what happens,” Radding said. “There is a lot of confusion right now, and not a lot of answers.”