An optimistic Obama administration touted a major phase of the Affordable Care Act online health-insurance marketplaces as having more options and lower premiums for consumers than originally projected.
Florida, where an estimated 3.8 million people live without health insurance, ranks near the top of the nation in terms of choices: Residents will have an average of 102 health plans to choose from when the federally run online marketplaces, or exchanges, go live on Oct. 1. That is second only to Arizona, where people shopping for insurance will have an average of 106 plans to consider.
A report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also indicated that, nationwide, insurance premiums should come in about 16 percent lower than the government expected, with the average individual on a middle-tier plan paying $328 a month before tax credits. In Florida, a 27-year-old making $25,000 a year would, on average, pay a $218 monthly premium on the same health plan.
Florida rates have actually come in quite well, said Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in a conference call with reporters and Obamas top health official, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Average monthly premiums in Miami-Dade County would range from as low as $72 a month after tax credits for a family of four earning $50,000 a year that opts for a low-cost plan to $799 for the same family on a middle-tier plan without tax credits. In Broward County, a family of four would pay $24 a month with tax credits for the low-cost plan and $722 a month for the middle-tier coverage without tax credits.
But Wednesdays report fails to provide an under-the-hood look at what the insurance plans will offer provider networks or deductibles or co-payments or any other coverage details.
For that, consumers will have to wait until Tuesdays opening of the online exchanges. Cohen said they will have plenty of time to sort out the details because the enrollment period runs from Oct. 1 through March 31, 2014. Consumers must buy insurance by Dec. 15 if they want to be covered starting Jan. 1.
Consumers and advocates will have a full six months to look at the options available to them and make a choice based on what they think is best for themselves and their family, Cohen said. For people who want to be insured by the start of the new year, they have all of October, all of November and half of December to go online, look at plans . . . think about it, come back and make a decision.
The online exchanges will allow individuals and small-business owners to shop for insurance and find out whether they are eligible for federal subsidies tax credits to help cover the cost of coverage or whether they can apply for Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor. The subsidies will be paid by the federal government directly to the insurance companies.
Enacted in 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Obamacare has triggered several reforms that affect Americans healthcare coverage. Among them, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions; dependent coverage for adult children has been extended to age 26; and insurance plans must offer at least 10 essential benefits that include hospitalization, emergency and outpatient treatment, maternity and newborn care, prescription drugs, pediatric services and more.