An Affordable Care Act Success Story

Bill Sherwonit

I am one of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—aka Obamacare—and Health Care Marketplace success stories. Given the considerable denunciation that Obamacare has gotten (some of it deserved, but much of it simply political), I think it’s important for those of us who are benefiting from the nation’s new health care system to share our stories. So here is mine.

For the past several years, I’ve been covered by Aetna Health Insurance, through the AARP. On the income of a self-employed, freelance writer, I only could afford what is commonly known as “catastrophic coverage.” Such plans provide coverage for major, unexpected medical costs, but they come with a high deductible and a long list of restrictions. Though I have been blessed with good health for most of my life, I reluctantly paid several hundred dollars each month, rather than risk that an accident, illness, or other unanticipated health crisis would wipe me out financially. The insurance took a big chunk of my income, but my only other option—having no coverage at all—seemed too big a gamble.

Last fall, Aetna notified me that my monthly payment would jump to more than $500 in 2014. The company also let me know that my coverage would be “grandfathered in” under Obamacare, if I chose to keep it. The latter fact gave me some peace of mind, but I figured I might as well check out the new marketplace for a better deal.

Rather than jump into the marketplace immediately, I decided to wait and see how it worked, a wise decision it turned out, given how flawed and frustrating the online signup process was in the beginning. By early December, it appeared that most of the initial problems had been worked out, so I entered the Health Care Marketplace. But rather than go it alone, I decided to get some help. This decision, too, served me well.

On Dec. 11, I contacted Enroll Alaska, a company formed in 2013 to help Alaskans negotiate the new marketplace and get the most appropriate health care coverage. As it happened, my phone call linked me to a woman named Chanel Moesh, who proved to be as talented and helpful a marketplace guide as any guy could ask for. (On my suggestion another friend worked with Chanel and also found her to be extremely helpful and efficient.)

Though I’d fretted that I might have to spend many hours working my way through the marketplace and finding the best insurance for me, with Chanel’s help I selected an insurance plan with Oregon-based MODA Health and received word through the online marketplace that I qualified for that plan, all within an hour’s time. That alone seemed amazing. Even more astounding to me, is that thanks to government subsidies for low-income people like me, I am paying hundreds of dollars less than I would be with Aetna, for much better benefits, including a $250 deductible.

The income of a freelance writer is never certain from one year to the next. There’s always the chance that I’ll earn substantially more money in 2014 than I’ve estimated I will (based on my income of recent years). If that happens, my insurance cost will rise and rightfully so. I don’t mind paying more, if I can afford it. But as things stand right now, I’ll save thousands of dollars this year on my health insurance.

This was one of the intents of Obamacare: to make health care coverage more affordable for those of us who for one reason or another don’t earn a lot of money. I love what I do and have worked diligently enough over the years that I’ve survived (and in some ways, thrived) as a freelance writer for more than two decades. As I sometimes tell people, the pay ain’t great, but the fringe benefits are wonderful (working at home, being my own boss, going for a walk in the woods—part of a nature writer’s job description—when working at the computer isn’t going so well, to name a few examples). Now, with a health care system tilted more toward people than corporate profits, I can afford insurance tailored to my income and lifestyle. Do I feel guilty about qualifying for a subsidy? Not at all. For many years I participated in a rigged system in which insurers essentially called all the shots. Now the playing field has been leveled. I strongly encourage Alaskan, especially low-wage earners, to check out the new marketplace.

My only regret is that Gov. Sean Parnell has chosen to reject the Medicaid expansion that’s available to Alaska through Obamacare. As many others have noted, it makes no sense for our governor to spurn that coverage for some 40,000 or more Alaskans who can use the extra help. Parnell’s decision—and rationale—is both disappointing and bewildering, yet one more example that in many ways he does not have the best interests of Alaskans at heart. While celebrating my own success in the new marketplace, I also mourn this lost opportunity for others who could be helped, but won’t be because of politics.

By Bill Sherwonit
Anchorage Daily News Bloggers