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As ACA sign up approaches, some fear much higher rates and less help

The main page of Healthcare.gov, the federal marketplace site for individual health policies.  The ACA signup starts November 1st.
The main page of Healthcare.gov, the federal marketplace site for individual health policies. The ACA signup starts November 1st.(KCRG)
Published: Oct. 23, 2017 at 4:46 PM CDT
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Iowa insurance leaders have pulled the plug on the state’s “stopgap” proposal to help people afford coverage on the individual health insurance marketplace.

And that decision ends any hope for Iowans who paid for all their own coverage to avoid the expected large insurance as all but one insurance company drops out of offering plans.

Without the stopgap plan, only Medica based in Minnesota has proposed to sell individual health policies on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace. And Medica has indicated it will increase premiums by more than 57 percent next year in Iowa next year.

The stopgap proposal, that was not accepted by federal regulators, would have changed federal subsidies to offer some financial help to Iowans who make too much money to qualify for existing subsidies.

Insurance officials have said about 72,000 Iowans purchase health insurance on the open marketplace. Doug Ommen, Iowa Insurance Commissioner, has estimated more than 20,000 people currently insured in Iowa by the ACA may drop coverage due to high insurance costs.

With the annual ACA signup period starting November 1st, counselors were already concerned about the changes that might make it more difficult for people to sign up.

The sign up period only runs until December 15th, much shorter than normal, and a federal program that paid for “navigators” to help people wade through the complex decisions was severely cut back.

On Monday morning, Elizabeth Buckeridge was excited to hear the governor’s office would have news about the proposal to help those who don’t qualify for subsidies afford individual health policies.

Buckeridge is a volunteer medical greeter at the Community Health Free Clinic in Cedar Rapids.

It’s her job to help steer patients to services where they can get free medical care and medicines.

But she gets her own health insurance through the ACA and doesn’t qualify for any financial help. Right now, she says she’s paying $680 a month for coverage. A preliminary look at proposed rates showed her next year that could zoom to $2,000 a month.

“It’s a life changer for me right now. Everything is going to have to change because if insurance costs do go up by that much there is no way I can afford it,” she said.

Karen Wielert was a navigator based in Iowa City who helped people in more than a dozen Iowa counties understand ACA details and pick the right coverage.

But that job disappeared when federal payments ended for her employer, Planned Parenthood.

Now Wielert works two days a week at Community Health Free Clinic as the ACA coordinator there.

She’s heard from some people who have gotten help before and they’re especially worried this year.

“I’ve had a few phone calls from people I’ve helped in past years wanting to know what other options there are,” she said.

As for Buckeridge, she has a plan “B” now that the state stopgap proposal for ACA coverage has failed.

She figures she’ll have to quit her volunteer job at the clinic and go back to full time work simply to qualify for employer health insurance.

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