The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — More than three years after President Obama’s Affordable Care Act was signed into law, Oklahomans without health insurance can finally start shopping for coverage through an insurance exchange that has been bitterly opposed by the state’s highest elected officials.
The long-anticipated opening of the insurance marketplace will give Oklahomans their first opportunity to explore the nation’s health care overhaul legislation that will create many changes in public and private health care coverage. Among other things, the law requires all Americans to have health insurance, including plans offered by employers and government programs such as Medicare or Medicaid, or pay a penalty.
Oklahomans can begin enrolling in health insurance plans on Tuesday and enrollment will continue for six months. Coverage begins Jan. 1 for those who sign up by Dec. 15. Oklahoma is among 36 states where the federal government will run the insurance marketplace in 2014.
Consumers can shop, compare and buy health insurance plans online via healthcare.gov, through a call center, in person or by mail. Tax credits are available for those with income between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty limit.
Navigators who are trained to help consumers identify health plans they qualify for and enroll will be available to help Oklahomans find insurance. In Oklahoma, navigators will be Cardon Outreach in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Community Health Centers, Inc., which has partners throughout the state, and Little Dixie Community Action Agency, Inc., which serves southeastern Oklahoma.
The online site has links to every state market, including Oklahoma’s. Information released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week indicated that Oklahomans will pay less than the national average for health insurance under the federal exchange, a position that was disputed by state Insurance Commissioner John Doak, a staunch opponent of the law who maintains health insurance rates will “skyrocket” when it is implemented.
“The HHS report is extremely misleading,” Doak said. “No matter how you try to dress it up, this federal law is unfair, unworkable and unaffordable.”
The exchange will offer an average of 53 health plans from five different companies.
Individuals will be able to choose between four levels of coverage for each health plan — bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Bronze plans cost less, but individuals will have more out-of-pocket costs when they seek care. Platinum plans cost more, but individuals will pay less when they seek health care. There are also catastrophic plans for young adults and those without affordable options.
To enroll in a health care plan through the federal insurance marketplace, individuals will have to provide basic information about themselves and their income and learn about their eligibility for tax credits. They can then shop for a health plan and enroll.
Tax credits and premium payments will be made directly to the insurance company.
Gov. Mary Fallin, an opponent of the health care law who voted against it as a member of Congress from the 5th District, had planned to accept a $54 million federal grant in 2011 to create a state-operated health insurance exchange. Under pressure from Republican legislative leaders, she later rejected a state-based insurance exchange under the health care law.
Fallin also turned down an expansion of Medicaid to provide coverage to low-income, uninsured citizens. There are about 600,000 uninsured Oklahomans and about 200,000 would have benefited from the expansion, state officials have said.
Fallin’s communications director, Alex Weintz, said that in spite of her opposition to the law, the governor believes Oklahomans should be given accurate information about its provisions and decide for themselves what to do.
“We are trying to help provide our constituents with the things they need to decide whether they want to participate in the exchange,” Weintz said.