Arizonans Prepare To Sign Up For Health Care Expansion Under Federal And State Programs

August 20, 2013

About 1 million people in Arizona could get health insurance next year.  The long awaited Affordable Health Care Act will not start providing benefits until January, but you can start signing up for a plan this fall. Plus, more low-income people can apply for coverage under Arizona’s Medicaid system, and local advocates are getting ready.

Arizona health care groups said one of their biggest challenges is informing people that there are two different enrollment efforts starting Oct. 1. 

The state will add up to 300,000 low-income patients to its Medicaid system known as AHCCCS, and higher-income patients will have the chance to buy their insurance under President Obama’s health care law. 

Arizona has allowed the federal government to run its internet marketplace where people and small businesses can shop for insurance plans. The program is being promoted on a new government website. That is where you will find a video featuring a coffee shop barista named Jamie who doesn’t have health insurance. 

“If something bad happened to me, if I were in an accident or if I developed some kind of serious illness, there’s no way I could afford it," Jamie said in the video. "I don’t have that kind of savings, my savings would be gone in an instant."

This is just one of the campaigns to promote national health care. Kim Van Pelt is leading another.  

“What we do know is that the Federal Health Care program will make purchasing health care easier than in the past and that's quite exciting," said Van Pelt.

Van Pelt is with St. Luke's Health Initiatives. She is working with a coalition of 250 Arizona groups to promote the federal online marketplace that opens to consumers in a few weeks. 

“There are some federal dollars that are available for outreach but those dollars are very limited,” she said.

Van Pelt said health groups are pooling their funds to promote the federal insurance exchange. The campaign is called "Cover Arizona." 

“There are efforts underway to address those older adults who have multiple chronic conditions who often need health coverage the most,” said Van Pelt.

Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released federal grants so Arizona and other states can hire personal assistants to help people sign up for insurance. Arizona received $2 million for the so-called "navigators,” and some will serve as interpreters who can help people who do not speak English.

“I’m Allen Gjersvig, and I’m with the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers,” Gjersvig said.
 
Gjersvig said his group is ready to recruit more than 50 navigators who will start work right away.  

"So the first challenge is to get the word out and the second is to get help to people who can't manage to get through the process on their own," Gjersvig said.

But, you will not really be on your own because the state will review and approve all local premiums on the federal website. Arizona Insurance Department spokeswoman Erin Klug said the federal reforms amount to more choices for people shopping for health care plans. 

"Insurance companies can no longer turn you down for pre-existing conditions. That applies both on and off the marketplace," Klug said. "You don't have to buy your insurance on the marketplace, you can still buy your insurance the way you always bought it in Arizona with or without an agency or directly from the company."

There are incentives to buy insurance on the government website, because some consumers can qualify for tax breaks or subsidies, and that is where the savings comes in.  

Now, here is more about Arizona's expansion of the Medicaid program AHCCCS. People who were kicked off the state rolls a few years ago during the recession will be the first priority for coverage, mostly low-income adults with no children. 

State Representative Heather Carter, a Cave Creek Republican, introduced the bill signed by Gov. Jan Brewer that adds patients to state Medicaid. 

"If somebody applies for AHCCCS and they are a childless adult and they make less that $15,000 a year, they will be eligible for Medicaid coverage.  But, they have to initiate that process,” said Carter.

Patients can apply for health insurance under the state or federal program during open enrollment from October through next March, but consumers can go online right now to see what some of the health care plans look like.   For more information go the federal website:  www.healthcare.gov.