The Ottumwa Courier

November 8, 2013

ObamaCare hits Ottumwa

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

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Editors note: Though the Affordable Care Act has been addressed on a national level, people in and around Wapello County have serious concerns. The Ottumwa Courier will continue to share periodic, localized articles as the story develops.

OTTUMWA — Next time Barack Obama visits Ottumwa, he might have some explaining to do.

"For the first time in my life, I feel ashamed of my government," said Allison Kale of Ottumwa.

Kale works full time, though she makes just enough to pay her bills. She's had some serious health problems, but her salary level qualified her for the IowaCare program, which provides health care for low-income Iowans.

Though not a perfect system (Ottumwa residents need to go to Iowa City for any doctor visit), Kale said she appreciated the program, which was fine for her needs. Upcoming changes mean that IowaCare ends Dec. 31, she said.

"I received notification, 'You will need to apply for other coverage.' So they told me to go the Affordable Care Act website and get my own insurance. I've got on the website. I started at 3 p.m. and they kept on saying they had technical difficulties. By 11 p.m. I had the quote."

She was hoping it was affordable.

"The cheapest thing I was quoted was $279 per month, with a $6,300 deductible," Kale said. "Then they pay half."

She wasn't happy. But the rule is, you must apply no later than Dec. 15.

"My money is gone at the end of the month," she said, "where am I supposed to get that?"

She's started trying to figure out what she's going to cut each month.

"I just sat at the computer and cried. I could not believe what they quoted me. It's not 'affordable' by any stretch of the imagination."

Troy Morgan had better luck — eventually.

For him, this experiment is working out fine. He is around computers all day for his job, and has other professionals at his office he can consult. Plus he Googled terms and tips so he could get through the process efficiently.

"I have finally been able to sign in. It was really awful. It just wasn't working as a website," said Morgan.

Now that he's able to sign in, things have been a lot smoother.

"Everything was quick to put in, so I could get an estimate. Even when things were going wrong, my thought was, it would get fixed," he said. "I understand it's a huge deal, but businesses roll out websites that don't work; they fix it. And I think that's what's happening."

Morgan doesn't like being without insurance. That was the case for eight years of his life, from age 25 to 33. He works at a job he likes, but is part time. Actually, when he was 25, he said, he wasn't really worried about whether he had health insurance or not.

"The problem is, the 25-year-old me thinks he's invincible."

Now, as a responsible 33-year-old, he wants coverage.

"I think there are flaws, but the principle of everyone having health insurance, I agree with that, because if someone doesn't, we're all going to pay for it anyway."

He received his estimate. He found the amount he'd have to pay, which was around $250, then factored in the "subsidy," which got it down to about $93 per month. It'll cost him just $10 to go to a doctor. Compared to the insurance he once got working part-time for a telemarketer, he said, this is great. The old insurance cost almost $150 per month. It had a very low maximum they would pay out, co-pays were very high and benefits were very low.

He believes those are the kinds of insurance programs the Affordable Care Act is designed to do away with.

"I don't know anyone who is in the situation I'm in who is complaining," Morgan said. "This law is benefiting me directly. And I'm pretty thankful I can get insurance that's affordable. What I didn't have before was the opportunity. This will be a better situation."

Any kind of insurance, he said, can be confusing. This program is not necessarily as user friendly as may have been intended. He had to learn a lot in order to participate successfully. He thinks there needs to be some sort of assistance available to people.

Kale said the same thing: She doesn't think she made a mistake on her "not-affordable" care estimate, but she said she didn't see a lot of assistance available.

"I wish there was someone independent I can call and ask," said Troy Morgan. "If you had a problem with Social Security or Medicare, you could go to their building."

There doesn't seem to be a local ObamaCare office.

"I am patriotic. I love my country. But this is very disheartening," Kale said. "Something has to be done, and has to be done quick."

To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark