DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — After years of debate and preparation, the launch day of the biggest new social welfare program in a generation has arrived. Starting Tuesday, uninsured Iowa residents will be able to use the new online marketplaces created under President Barack Obama's health care law to compare and buy health insurance plans.
About 264,000 Iowa residents under 65 without insurance could benefit from the law, but just how many people will immediately participate is hard to know. While Iowa is not a state where political opponents of the law are trying to aggressively impede implementation, state officials said there is still work to be done to explain the law to the public. And not all the education, assistance and marketing efforts will be fully ready in Iowa on day one.
"It's really a massive undertaking to educate Iowans. I think we have a lot of work ahead to educate people about the options on the exchange," said state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City who supports the law and has worked to inform his constituents about the new program.
The exchange will be available Oct. 1, with coverage starting Jan. 1 at the earliest. Under the law — which seeks to reduce the number of Americans without health insurance — individuals are required to have health insurance from their employer or purchase it. Those who don't buy insurance will pay a penalty next year.
Iowa has agreed to a partnership exchange with the federal government, which means that the website and the technical infrastructure will all be handled by federal authorities. The state vetted and approved the insurance carriers that will be featured on the exchange and has been holding informational sessions around the state to let people know about the law.
Those shopping for benefits in Iowa will be able to choose from between at least two insurance carriers, both selling plans that offer a range of premiums, deductibles and co-pays. Some people using the exchange will qualify for subsidies to help cover the cost.