By Beth Dodd:
In spite of all the wailing and gnashing of teeth associated with the recent federal government shut down and the initiation of the Obamacare healthcare exchanges this month, it’s hard to notice any difference here in Teller County.
While, the government shutdown did result in the furlough of 800,000 government workers across the nation, including the staff of Florissant Fossil Beds and the Pike National Forest, very few federal employees actually work in Teller County. The biggest local impact was felt in Colorado Springs with its large numbers of military personnel, but early on the Congress passed a stop-gap measure to keep the armed forces working.
The roll out of the Obamacare healthcare exchanges this month has also been a non-story locally. Less than 250 people across the state actually signed up for new health insurance using the Colorado exchange during its first week. Colorado hopes to enroll 136,000 people in health insurance programs by the end of 2014.
Colorado is one of 16 states that are operating their own insurance exchanges. The Colorado exchange says its website received 162,941 unique visitors and had 18,174 accounts created in the first week. That means just over 1 percent of those who created accounts actually purchased insurance. The exchange also fielded 9,658 chats with customer-service representatives. Even so, Colorado has signed up less than half the number of people in seven days as tiny Rhode Island did in three. Kentucky, which also has its own exchange, enrolled 18,000 people in Obamacare by Oct. 9.
In spite of $21 million spent on marketing the Affordable Care Act in Colorado, there still seems to be a great deal of confusion over what the Obamacare program will and won’t do for the uninsured. Despite what you may have heard, you can’t be arrested or thrown in jail if you don’t have health insurance in Colorado, and you won’t be tattooed with a serial number if you do buy insurance. You can, however, be forced to pay a tax penalty.
To avoid the penalty, you must either obtain qualified health coverage or prove your eligibility for an exception. If you already are already enrolled in Colorado’s Medicaid program, you do not have to sign up for another insurance plan. You can qualify for Medicaid if you earn up to 133% of the federal poverty level. In 2013, that is about $15,800 for a single person, or $32,500 for a family of four. Colorado has about 350,000 uninsured residents who aren’t eligible for Medicare.
Colorado’s Obamacare health insurance exchange is called Connect for Health Colorado. It is separate from the national health care exchange that has been frustrating many with multiple computer glitches. Colorado individuals, families, and businesses with fewer than 100 employees can buy insurance online through the state based exchange. It is estimated that the exchange and other aspects of the Affordable Health Care act will potentially reducing the cost of family health insurance premiums by $1,510 to $2,160.