Working America Health Care has got you covered — before, during and after enrollment

The following post was written by Amy Lynn Smith and was originally posted on Eclectablog

The clock is ticking on 2015 open enrollment for health insurance. With the February 15th deadline approaching fast, the time to act is now if you’re not already covered. But getting health insurance is only the beginning. Then you have to put your benefits to good use.

Working America has got your back. The Working America Health Care program is designed to provide all the support you need before, during and after the process of buying insurance. Plus, when you enroll through the program, you’ll be eligible for a wide variety of additional benefits not available anywhere else — at no extra cost.

According to Tony Cheng, assistant director of Working America, the goal of the program is not only to help people sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but to make sure they have a great experience with whatever plan they sign up for.

We’re going at the intent of the law, which isn’t just helping people sign up but helping people lead healthier lives.

We want to be there to help people understand what health care reform really means, helping them sign up for whichever insurance plan meets their needs, and helping them use their benefits after they sign up. We’ll make sure they always have someone on their side.

Working America Health Care is a joint partnership between Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and Union Plus, which was created by the AFL-CIO to develop consumer benefits, discounts, and services for more than 13 million current and retired union members.

You do NOT have to be the member of any union to take advantage of Working America Health Care, but you’ll automatically become a Working America member if you sign up for coverage through the program.

Through Working America Health Care, consumers are guided through the insurance shopping process by a licensed professional with GoHealth, one of the country’s largest online brokers.

“The reason they’re so good is that they aren’t working on commission, so there’s no pressure to sign up for a particular plan,” says Roland Leggett, Michigan program director for Working America. “They’re only there to make sure you get the best plan for you and your family. It empowers people who need insurance.”

Leggett says it only takes about 30 minutes to go through the enrollment process, although you can take time to weigh your options before completing your enrollment. Every step of the way, you’ll have expert guidance to help you navigate the sometimes confusing process of buying health insurance.

“We want to help people understand what the ACA means, what to look for when they sign up — how to keep their doctor if they want to, or the additional costs involved in each plan, such as co-pays and deductibles,” says Cheng. “We want to help folks understand the big picture.”

Once enrollment is complete, Working America provides access to an independent, personal health care advocate who can help you coordinate your care, resolve claims and answer questions about coverage.

Leggett explains:

Especially if you’ve never had insurance before, you may need help navigating the system. Your health advocate can answer questions about coverage and claims, and help you negotiate medical bills. There’s even a union nurse available by phone to help you decide what kind of care you need if you’re sick.

Working America Health Care also provides vision and dental discounts, which are a great resource if you don’t purchase vision or dental coverage — but the discounts apply even if you do. These discounts can save you up to 60 percent on dental care and up to 35 percent on vision exams and glasses.

What’s more, through Union Plus you’ll be eligible for a wide range of other discounts on everything from health club memberships to mortgage assistance, and much more.

You’ll also become part of the Working America family, which connects you to the work they’re doing to lift up the middle class through efforts such as raising the minimum wage, funding education and holding politicians accountable. As Leggett says, “We’re empowering folks to be part of the political process.”

Right now, Working America Health Care has an on-the-ground presence in 17 cities, including Detroit, where it goes out into communities through a variety of events and partnerships, reaching out to union members, small businesses and individuals. Assistance is also available by phone or online nationwide.

After open enrollment concludes on February 15th, Working America Health Care will continue assisting people who are eligible for a special enrollment period due to a life change such as getting married or changing jobs.

“We can help people see if choosing a plan through the ACA might make more sense than using COBRA coverage to address a gap in coverage,” says Cheng. “And we’re talking all the time to early retirees who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare, and young people when they turn 26 and are no longer eligible for coverage on their parents’ plan.”

Both Cheng and Leggett urge anyone who still needs to enroll in coverage to do it now. Rather than waiting until the last minute, give yourself plenty of time to make the best decision for yourself and your family, says Cheng.

Our goal is first to make sure people know what’s available, and then to make sure they know how to use their health care after they sign up.

But we also want to make sure we’re moving forward in terms of health reform. Health care is a basic right and it’s under attack. If we don’t use it we lose it. We want to make sure people understand what’s at stake and are signing up.

Get started with Working America Health Care today! Call 855-698-2479 or visit the Working America Health Care website. Remember: 2015 open enrollment ends February 15th.

Follow Amy Lynn on Twitter at @alswrites

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We Have A Plan To Make Health Insurance Easy To Understand

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We all worked incredibly hard to pass health care reform in 2009 and 2010, and we’re proud to now see millions of Americans accessing high quality, affordable health insurance–many of them for the first time.

But some things haven’t changed. For many Americans, navigating their health insurance is just as complex and frustrating as it was before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. At Working America, we wanted to make sure that information and support before, during, and after enrollment was available to out more than 3 million members–and anyone else who needed it.

That’s why we created Working America Health Care.

By enrolling through Working America Health Care, you have access to licensed professionals that can connect you to almost all the health plan options on the Health Insurance Marketplace (aka Healthcare.gov). But for no additional cost, you also have access to hundreds of benefits available through our partners at Union Plus, including dental and vision discounts.

Most importantly, when you enroll in the Marketplace through Working America Health Care, you have access to a personal Health Advocate: a real person you can call to help navigate the complexities of your health insurance. For no additional cost.

Enrolling through us also makes you a member of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO and the fastest growing organization for working families. Since our creation in 2003, we’ve successfully helped raised the wages of millions of workers, passed paid sick days laws and other worker protections, and helped elect dozens of pro-worker local, state, and federal candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Al Franken, Mark Dayton, and Jeff Merkley.

And yes, this program is open to anyone who does not have a union on the job. That includes folks who are freelancers, unemployed, and retired too.

Want to find out more? Visit our website at workingamericahealthcare.org or call 855-698-2479. We’ll also answer as many questions as possible in the comments.

Bonus: Check out Amy Lynn Smith’s great coverage of Working America Health Care on Eclectablog!

Originally posted on DailyKos

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3 Pieces of Good News for Obamacare You Might Have Missed

Remember Obamacare? Also known as the Affordable Care Act? With news of conflict and tragedy dominating the airwaves, recent news about the sweeping new health care law has been getting swept under the rug.

That’s too bad, because here’s the basic headline: the Affordable Care Act is working, and consumers have a lot to look forward to when the next open enrollment period starts in November.

Here’s the rundown:

1.) More insurance companies are joining the exchanges. The health exchanges set up under the ACA work best when more insurance companies participate. More companies means more competition for your business, which ultimately means lower prices for consumers.

For instance, last year in New Hampshire there was only one company on the state exchange–not a recipe for healthy competition. Even so, signups exceeded expectations, and other companies are diving in to swoop up consumer dollars. For 2015 open enrollment (which begins on November 15, 2014), there will be not one more but four more companies on the New Hampshire exchange.

That’s happening across the country. In Michigan, there will be 18 companies for 2015 open enrollment versus 13 in 2014. In Indiana, consumers will have double the options to choose from. Major carriers like United, Aetna, and Cigna are wading into California’s exchange, which they previously sat out. Again, more competition means more options and lower prices for consumers.

2.) The ACA is massively cutting the rate of uninsured. Between the creation of state exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid in half the country, and the end of disgusting insurance practices (like denying insurance to those with pre-existing conditions), the Affordable Care Act is succeeding at its main goal: reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

Look at where we stand. The rate of uninsured in New Jersey is down 38 percent. In Minnesota, it’s down a whopping 40 percent. And in Kentucky, where Senator Mitch McConnell advocated full repeal of the ACA, the rate of uninsured has been cut in half.

What of predictions that all those consumers signing up wouldn’t pay their premiums? Charles Gaba, who runs ACASignups.net, has crunched the statewide data and estimates 90 percent of those who signed up on the exchanges have paid the first premiums.

3.) A majority of Americans want to keep the ACA. The Koch Brothers, the Republican Party, and the health insurance lobby itself have all spent massive amounts of money on a barrage of misinformation to convince the country that Obamacare is a government takeover, a socialist conspiracy, a massive waste of money, or the “worst thing since slavery,” depending on who you ask.

But as more and more people gain the peace of mind that health coverage brings, the misinformation loses its effectiveness.

A Bloomberg poll released on June 11 shows that 56 percent of Americansthink Obamacare “may need small modifications, but we should see how it works,” vs. 32 percent for repeal and 10 percent for leaving it be. The poll also finds 11 percent oppose the law because it didn’t go far enough.

And as we’ve seen since 2010, support for the actual components of the ACA is much higher: 55 percent support eliminating lifetime caps, 65 percent support changing rules on preexisting conditions, and 75 percent (!) support allowing children to remain on parents’ plans until 26.

As MSNBC’s Simon Maloy put it: “We’re only six days into June, and opponents of the ACA have already had a terrible month.” Which makes it a great month for consumers like you and me.

Visit WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org to find out more information on getting affordable coverage that works for you.

Photo by Obamacare on Facebook

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Get Health Insurance, Strengthen the Movement for Working Families. At. The. Same. Time.

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It’s exhausting. We know.

Trying to counter the misinformation about the Affordable Care Act AND trying to highlight out the few corporate donors pushing the lies AND holding the media accountable for inadequate coverage AND…

…all of a sudden, there are only a few days left to sign up for coverage for this year.

March 31 is the deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. If you enroll before then, your insurance will start May 1. If not, you may have to wait until January 1, 2015.

Politics aside, this is the point of the new health care law: getting as many Americans as possible from fear and uncertainty of no coverage to the security of health insurance, thereby bringing down costs and making life better for all of us.

And while we’re bringing more people into the “insured” fold, we also have an opportunity to grow the movement that’s fighting to make our lives better in other areas: higher wages, paid sick days, and protections from indignity at the workplace.

That’s why Working America Health Care is working with GoHealth to bring affordable health insurance to uninsured Americans.

Enter your information at WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org and you can compare and contrast plans and enroll in minutes.

We also offer something extra: by signing up for a health plan through GoHealth, you’re invited to join Working America and gain access to added member benefits, like discounted dental and vision benefits and a personal health advocate to help you troubleshoot with your insurance company.

Plus, by becoming a Working America member, you have access to hundreds of benefits through Union Plus including discounts on car insurance, wireless service, legal assistance, and many more. A full list of Union Plus benefits available for Working America members can be viewed here.

But benefits aside, we all win when the movement for working families grows. By signing up for insurance through Working America, you’re also opting in to receive updates and opportunities to pursue goals we all share: raising the minimum wage, gaining rights at the workplace, countering corporate power at the ballot box, and changing the conversation about the value of work in our country.

So don’t delay! Sign up at WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org and find a plan that works for you. And if you’re lucky enough to have insurance, please email, share, tweet – whatever – this blog post to friends and family who might not be covered.

The Koch Brothers, the politicians, the talking heads–they’ll always be making noise. But let’s focus on the real goal: getting America enrolled, covered, and secure with health insurance.

Photo by italintheheart on Flickr

*The relationship with GoHealth does not include MA, RI, VT, WV, HI, WA, OR, and select counties in CO and OH. The personal health advocate service is not available in Hamilton, Lucas, Summit, Stark, Montgomery, and Mahoning counties in Ohio.

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7 Reflections On ACA Enrollment (With A Few Days Left To Sign Up)

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With a few days to go for Ohio’s uninsured to get signed up on the health insurance exchange, I’m poking my head out of the trenches to report back on my experience signing people up, and to let PB readers in Cincinnati and Canton know how they can enroll before the deadline.

I’ve been with Working America since enrollment began. We’re Champions of Coverage, meaning that our role is to identify uninsured Ohioans and make sure they have the information that they need in order to get signed up.

Primarily, we’re setting up enrollment fairs, where people can get help with the application, talk to a licensed insurance agent about the plans that are available, and sign up for coverage on the spot. And by signing up with a licensed agent through the Working America Health Care program, you’re joining thousands of others to advocate to continuously improve the health coverage that you receive.

Here’s a list of our enrollment events: make sure your friends know about them!

But, enough plugging. Here are two lists: one for wonky readers and one for activist readers… 

Four Things I’ve Learned While Signing People Up

1. People are happy with their premium. One of the biggest questions about ACA was whether people would feel like they’re getting a good deal. I’ve only talked to one person that didn’t like his premium, and he was one of the few that didn’t get a subsidy. He was still paying less than he did before, he just wanted it lower.

Almost everybody else feels like they’re getting a good deal.

2. People are not happy with the coverage their job provides. I get an awful lot of sign-ups from people whose job offers them a worse deal than they would get on the exchange. They’re either unhappy with the deductible, the premium, or the network. They want to sign up on the health exchange, but they don’t get a discount because they’re covered through work.

3. Ohioans haven’t heard anything about the law. Part of my rap is “what have you heard about signing up for coverage?” and still most people say “this is the first I’ve heard about the Affordable Care Act”. People are surprised to hear that they have to sign up, and even more surprised that they only have until March 31 to sign up.

4. I’ve stopped calling it Obamacare. People think that “Obamacare” is a plan that you enroll in, like Medicare or Medicaid. Calling it Obamacare makes it harder to explain that they may just be eligible to get a discount on the same private insurance plans that were available a year ago.

When I tell people that “Obamacare” is just potential money that they use to buy private insurance, they all wonder what the big deal was.

And or activists…

Three Things Uninsured People Need To Know Before They Get Penalized

1. After March 31, you can’t sign up. Not only is March 31 the last day to go uninsured without paying a fine, but you also can’t sign up after March 31. The next open enrollment period starts in November for 2015 coverage.

You can enroll in Medicaid at any time, but full time workers likely make too much for Medicaid.

2. You pay for your insurance on a sliding scale. I don’t know why it’s taken so long to get the rap this short, but I describe ACA as “the less you make, the less you have to pay for coverage”.

Most uninsured people have been to a clinic or provider that charges based on income. That’s similar to how the health exchange works when it says “you may be eligible for a tax credit”.

3. Full time + minimum wage = really cheap plans. A full-time minimum wage worker earns $16,536 a year. That person’s Silver plan should be $50 a month, and a Bronze between $1 and $33 a month, depending on age and where she lives. Anything less than 40 hours a week at minimum wage would make her eligible for Medicaid.

Reposted from Plunderbund

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Turkey Talk: How To Talk About Obamacare At Thanksgiving Dinner

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At your Thanksgiving dinner this year, the new health care law is bound to come up in conversation. You’ll hear a lot of myths about the Affordable Care Act, and Working America wants you to be prepared with the facts.

 

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MYTH:
“Obamacare will make my premiums go up.”

FACT:
The vast majority of people are expected to pay lower health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act, and many will also be eligible for financial assistance. In fact, premiums in some states are higher because of politicians blocking parts of the new law.

MORE:
Remember before health reform? Even if you had insurance, you were paying a ton out of pocket for services your plan didn’t cover, sometimes even simple services like blood tests. But now that there are rules about what plans have to cover, we’ll all save money in the long run by paying less out of pocket, even if premiums for some folks are higher.

Under Obamacare, overall costs are rising slower than they have in previous years: more people are getting coverage, which means more people are accessing preventive care instead of expensive emergency care, which lowers costs for everyone.

In fact, premiums are higher in some states because of politicians who refuse to implement parts of the law. For example, the average Wisconsinite is paying $1,800 more annually for health care than the average Minnesotan, partly because Minnesota expanded Medicaid and does a better job reviewing their rates. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other Republican governors have refused to expand Medicaid

 

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MYTH:
“Obama lied about me being able to keep my health care plan under Obamacare.”

FACT:
The rollout of the Affordable Care Act hasn’t been perfect, but President Obama didn’t lie. Health insurance companies, not any elected official, are responsible for plans being canceled.

MORE:
Before Obamacare, there were few rules about what health plans had to cover. Millions of Americans had plans that were so shoddy, they ended up paying out of pocket for a lot of their medical costs. Too often, having insurance was a lot like not having insurance.

Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans must cover at least 60% of the total cost of medical services for a standard population. Plans must also cover at least ten essential services, including lab services and hospitalization. Just like how there are rules about selling lead toys, bad meat, and moldy produce, the new law established rules about the quality of health insurance plans. These rules kick in on January 1, 2014.

The problem is that even after the law was passed, insurance companies kept pushing plans that didn’t meet these minimum standards. The insurance companies knew these plans would have to be canceled when the new law kicked in, but they kept selling them anyway.

Given the lack of warning from their insurance company, many customers were shocked to discover that their plans would soon be canceled. What’s worse, many companies are taking advantage of this situation by trying to push those customers onto more expensive plans.

If your plan was canceled, there are solutions. You can purchase insurance on the Health Insurance Marketplace, where you’ll have more options. Depending on your income and the size of your family, you may be eligible for financial assistance that will make coverage even more affordable.

 

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MYTH:
“Obamacare steals from Medicare.”

FACT:
The Affordable Care Act actually helps Medicare by eliminating waste and inefficiency. Medicare benefits are not affected by the health reform law — but they would be affected if we turned it into a voucher system.

MORE:
You may have heard someone say “Obamacare takes $716 billion from Medicare.” That’s a lie. That statement has been proven false by Politifact and almost every news organization that has covered the issue.

But where does that number come from? The Affordable Care Act seeks to reduce future Medicare spending, and the savings are estimated at $716 billion over 10 years. The savings come from reducing subsidies to private Medicare Advantage plans (saving taxpayer money!) and from taxes on drug companies, device makers, and insurers. Luckily, those companies will be able to afford those new fees because of all the new customers they’ll get as a result of the law.

So, Medicare benefits will not be affected by Obamacare — but they would be affected by the budgets proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan and passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which replaces Medicare with “vouchers” to use on the private market.

 

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MYTH:
“Obamacare is forcing me to buy health care.”

FACT:
Let’s face it: everyone will need health care at some point in their lives. Under the new law, you can either purchase health insurance or pay a small fee. Regardless, prices are lower for everyone.

MORE:
Before Obamacare, many people who could not afford insurance got their medical care from the emergency room. Emergency care is more expensive than preventive care and free of charge for those who use it but cannot afford to pay for services, so when more people wait until an emergency to access care (because they couldn’t see a doctor beforehand) that increases overall health care costs and leads to higher premiums for everyone.

Essentially, Americans were already paying for “universal health care” through the emergency room, which made health care more expensive, less efficient, and more dangerous for patients.

The Affordable Care Act takes that burden off our shoulders by asking every individual to buy insurance — the “individual mandate.” Every American has to have some sort of health insurance or pay a fee; because of subsidies and other assistance having coverage is almost always the easier choice.

 

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MYTH:
“Obamacare isn’t working because the federal government can’t do anything right.”

FACT:
A bumpy start for a massive and complex law doesn’t mean Obamacare “isn’t’t working.” And Medicaid expansion, which is a program of the federal government, is already helping millions of people under the new law.

MORE:
Yes, there have been some problems with the federal health exchange, especially the website. By comparison, the expansion of the public Medicaid program — insurance for low-income and disabled Americans — has been going very well. Oregon, for instance, has cut its number of uninsured citizens nearly in half thanks to Medicaid expansion.

Plus, millions of Americans have already been helped by Obamacare’s provisions: allowing kids to stay on their parents’ insurance until 26, scrapping lifetime caps, rebates from insurance companies, and ending to the shameful practice of denying insurance because of preexisting conditions.

Unfortunately, governors and legislators in 24 states are refusing to accept Medicaid expansion, even though it would cost their states almost nothing until 2020. About 5 million Americans who would be eligible for Medicaid can’t access it because of these politicians. The more uninsured, the more people using the emergency room for care, which drives up costs for everyone.

It’s been about 8 weeks since the website was launched, and glitches are being fixed every day. Remember: Social Security and Medicare took several years to get up and running. That doesn’t mean they are failures.

 

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MYTH:
“Obamacare is a government takeover of health care. I don’t want socialized medicine!”

FACT:
Every plan offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace is offered by a private company. Far from “socialized medicine,” the Affordable Care Act is based on free market ideas.

MORE:
The government is not in the business of selling insurance. Every plan available on the health exchange is offered by a private company, co-op, or other health related organization.

Obamacare is in fact based on free market principles: that competition between private insurance companies will bring down prices. Some of the central ideas behind Obamacare come from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and were first proposed by Republicans in Congress during the 1990’s.

This is very different from a single-payer system like in Canada, where the government pays for all health care costs. It’s also different from the National Health Service in Great Britain, where all doctors are employees of the state.

 

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MYTH:
“We can’t afford Obamacare.”

FACT:
The Affordable Care Act pays for itself and cuts the federal deficit at the same time.

MORE:
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the Affordable Care Act will cut the federal budget deficit by a whopping $210 billion dollars by 2021.

How? A combination of fees on insurers and device-makers, ending subsidies to expensive Medicare Advantage plans, and reducing Medicare payments to hospitals and insurers by eliminating waste and fraud.

And you know what else? Like we’ve said, when more people have health insurance and fewer people are using the emergency room for care, that saves money for all of us.

Want to learn more? Sign up for health care tips and info at Working America Health Care.

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Don’t Be Fooled: Insurance Companies, Stubborn Politicians Are Behind High Insurance Premiums

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The health insurance industry is reacting badly to President Obama’s announced health care “fix” — which would allow customers to keep health plans that may not meet minimum standards.

“This decision continues different rules for different policies and threatens to undermine the new market, and may lead to higher premiums and market disruptions in 2014 and beyond,” said Jim Donelon, president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

That response lead cartoonist Mark Fiore to ask: when doesn’t the health insurance industry react to an event by raising premiums?

Remember during the health insurance Wild West before health care reform, when premiums were skyrocketing, not to mention loads of people getting dropped from their plans? Remember leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, when premiums rose? That suddenly seems like so long ago. Remember the insurance companies complaining about rising premiums before? Me neither.

Mark Fiore’s cartoon above, “A message from the Health Insurers of America,” is a good reminder that private insurance companies are responsible for high premiums, and that they will take the opportunity to pad their profits more often than not.

Since I am a self-employed cartoonist, I’ve been living in the health insurance wilderness for quite a while. My family’s plan was canceled, like all those other people you’ve heard about lately.

Fiore’s solution? Kicking his old insurance company to the curb and getting a better deal from his state’s new health exchange, California Covered — even more affordable with subsidies.

Since I’m not holding my breath that my insurance provider will “un-cancel” me, let alone offer my previous plan at the same price, off to California Covered I go! Once I’m there, thanks to generous subsidies, my premium will be lower than before. Ah, America!

Do insurance companies deserve all the blame? No sir. You can also lay the burden at the feet of Republican governors and legislators who have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, leaving more than 5 million Americans without access to affordable coverage. That means more people using the emergency room, which means higher overall health care costs, which means — you guessed it — higher premiums for everyone.

If you don’t believe the effect that stubborn governors can have on health care costs, just compare average premiums in Minnesota (Medicaid expanded) and Wisconsin (Gov. Scott Walker refuses Medicaid expansion). Due to the difference in Medicaid eligibility and a better review of rates in Minnesota, the average Wisconsinite is paying $1,800 more than the average Minnesotan.

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Forget Website Glitches. This Is What Is Keeping Texans from Getting Health Insurance.

A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 67 percent of Texans support the expansion of Medicaid, which would allow 1.2 million in the state to afford health insurance.

Two-thirds of voters support giving states the option to expand their Medicaid programs for low-income, uninsured adults. That majority spanned the ideological spectrum on an issue that Texas lawmakers ducked last session, opting not to expand that coverage.

Republican Governor Rick Perry, who is leaving office in January 2015 after three terms, has refused Medicaid expansion at every turn. He has said expanding Medicaid would be “like putting another thousand people on the Titanic,” whatever that means. Past standard anti-Obamacare claptrap, he has not offered any solutions for the 1.2 million Texans who don’t have health insurance, the most of any state in the country. Perry’s refusal also leaves $79 billion in federal assistance on the table.

But the Perry administration’s opposition to Obamacare implementation goes past Medicaid. Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is seeking to succeed Perry, has also placed additional restrictions on health care “navigators,” making it more difficult for Texans to obtain insurance on the state exchange.

More than any website glitch, the deliberate obstruction of politicians like Perry and Abbott is what stands between Texans and affordable health coverage. And public opinion stands firmly against this reckless, needless cruelty.

Take Action: Tell Gov. Perry to accept Medicaid expansion and allow 1.2 million Texans to afford health insurance.

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What’s Behind Wisconsin’s High Health Insurance Premiums? His Name Is Scott Walker

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s rejection of federal Medicaid money and his “hands-off approach to rate regulation” has lead to higher than average health insurance premiums in the Badger State.

How high? Up to 99 percent higher than in its neighbor (and longtime rival in all things) Minnesota.

Robert Kraig, the executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said a report he co-authored shows that “rates are much higher in Wisconsin than in Minnesota, despite having similar geographies and similar underlying medical costs.”

Kraig said Wisconsin insurance exchange premiums for a single person are an average of 79 percent to 99 percent higher than premiums in Minnesota, before tax credits are applied. He said the average Wisconsinite will pay $1,800 more annually for health care.

Wisconsin is one of the more than two dozen states whose governors or legislators have blocked federally funded Medicaid expansion.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government is assisting states with expanding Medicaid coverage to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, closing the gap between those who qualify for traditional Medicaid coverage and those who can buy health insurance on the state exchanges. Many states, including Minnesota, have accepted the expansion as a no-brainer.

But as part of the Supreme Court’s decision last June, states cannot be required to accept these federal funds, leading many governors like Texas Gov. Perry, Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, and Wisconsin’s Walker to “stand up to Obamacare” by saying no to these funds.

So in states like Wisconsin, the coverage gap persists, pushing about 92,000 low-income Wisconsinites onto the health exchanges. Low-income people, on average, have more medical needs, so adding thousands of them to the exchange pool leads to higher premiums — for everyone.

In Milwaukee, average cost of health insurance is 112 percent higher than Minnesota’s average; in La Crosse, WI, it’s 136 percent higher. Yikes.

It’s not just the Medicaid expansion. Under Gov. Walker, Wisconsin’s Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has been very laissez-faire about challenging insurance rates, while Minnesota has “exercised a rigorous rate of review,” according to the Cap Times. Kraig’s study found that such reviews have lowered Minnesota’s rates by up to 37 percent. “We have taken in Wisconsin a clearinghouse approach,” Kraig said, “The insurance company says, ‘Here’s our rate in the exchange’ and the state of Wisconsin says ,’OK.’”

Back to Scott Walker. Not only is Walker up for reelection next year, he’s also laying groundwork for a presidential campaign. Accepting Medicaid expansion through Obamacare would be an anathema to Walker’s Tea Party base and his corporate backers; he can’t say that out loud, which is why his explanation for rejecting the funds has been vague and elusive.

By rejecting Medicaid for ideological and political reasons, Walker is continuing the pattern he’s held since taking office: it doesn’t matter if it makes life worse for Wisconsinites, it only matters that he holds onto power.

Tell Gov. Walker to end the games: accept federal funds for Medicaid now.

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Obamacare Is Already Working. Why Conservatives Should Be Rejoicing About It.

The health exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, opened on October 1, 2013. An analysis by Bloomberg Government shows that competition among health insurance companies on the Health Exchange Marketplace is driving down premiums by as much as a third.

Rates released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) show that the price of policies offered in “rating areas” with 10 or more participating insurers are between 31 percent and 35 percent lower than those for the same policies in areas with only one issuer.

A preliminary review of rates in the remaining 14 to 16 states and the District of Columbia that will run their own exchanges suggests that a similar pattern holds in most.

The pattern shows that at least for 2014 exchanges probably will live up to one of their advocates’ key claims: that the ACA can expand coverage while constraining costs.

House Republicans and the Tea Party are going to extreme lengths to delay, defund, and/or repeal Obamacare. Our question is: Why? The health insurance exchanges are, in some ways, a triumph for market-based conservative ideals.

After all, Republicans supported Obamacare…before Obama. Seriously. Lots of them.

Quick history lesson: In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), which required all hospitals participating in Medicare (pretty much all of them) to provide emergency room treatment to anyone who showed up. Policy experts began to worry about the “free rider problem,” where people wouldn’t pay for health insurance because they could just show up at the ER if they got sick (this was passed at the same time as COBRA, for those of you keeping score at home).

In 1989, Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, wrote a paper called “Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans,” in which he proposed the “individual mandate.” That’s the idea, that ended up in Obamacare, that all Americans be required to have health insurance or pay a fine. It’s also the idea that makes the exchanges work: private insurance companies can accept the regulations and “managed competition” of the Health Insurance Marketplace because Americans are required to be customers.

During the health care debate in 1993, Republicans proposed an alternative to President Bill Clinton’s plan that included the individual mandate. Among these Republicans were Newt Gingrich, Orrin Hatch, and Chuck Grassley, who all now rail against Obamacare.

And, of course one-time Obama opponent Mitt Romney included an individual mandate in his health care plan as governor of Massachusetts. Here’s what he said in April 2006:

…we’ve come up with something that’s much closer to Republican ideals: reform the market to make the health-insurance marketplace work better. Insist on personal responsibility instead of government responsibility.

Now, since that time, Romney, Gingrich, and even Heritage’s Stuart Butler have twisted themselves into pretzels saying how different their ideas are from Obamacare, detailed here by Forbes’ Avik Roy. And yes, the Affordable Care Act is a large bill containing various components that some people like and some don’t. But the idea of private health insurance companies competing for customers in the free market is a (small-c) conservative idea, an idea supported by the Republican Party in various ways over the past 30 years.

So instead of shutting down the government and throwing tantrums, conservatives should be beaming with pride. You got Democratic President Obama and a Democratic Congress to pass one of your ideas into law. And so far, it ain’t half bad!

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