Advocates: Healthy dose of information could help ‘Obamacare’ consumers

TRENTON – The Affordable Care Act chaos that critics decry as “Obamacare’’ can’t be resolved quickly, but lawmakers and consumer advocates this week are hoping to get questions answered and dispel misconceptions.

Consumers don’t realize they have choices, some that do don’t understand their choices’ consequences, and government – state and federal – could be doing more to educate and assist people.

Those were some points made Wednesday by advocates who wanted to explain their view that last week’s news that some 800,000 New Jerseyans’ out-of-compliance policies are endangered is not necessarily a bad thing.

Last week, the Christie administration announced it would let individual insurance companies decide whether to keep or cancel such policies. That decision to let the marketplace decide was made after the Obama administration had said it wanted to allow people the option of retaining non-compliant plans next year.

Maura Collinsgru of N.J. Citizen Action said that approximately 110,000 N.J. policyholders out of that 800,000 have the so-called substandard plans and although they could opt to renew them, advocates today argued they probably would be better off at least exploring the marketplace.

The substandard plans lack options such as a cap on out-of-pocket expenses and coverage for pre-existing conditions for a year, according to Ray Castro of N.J. Policy Perspective.

By renewing those so-called “basic and essential” plans, the consumers would sacrifice some protections, miss out on potential tax credits, and leave themselves vulnerable to some discriminatory practices, Collinsgru said.

“They can pick up more comprehensive and in many cases more cost-effective coverage by going to the marketplace,” she said.

The more individuals – especially generally healthy, younger people – who continue to utilize the substandard types of plans, the higher the costs will be overall for those relying on the marketplace to shop for insurance, according to these advocates.

They believe the state should be doing more than it is to get the word out to consumers about options.

It has $7.6 million from a federal grant that could be used, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars that will be generated through expanded Medicaid, they said.

“We’re not taking a position whether plans should be extended or not,  but consumers should be aware of what their options are,” Castro said.

Some lawmakers are looking to Washington, D.C., to do more as well.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick today called on the Obama administration to protect approximately 90,000 New Jersey Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield members from losing their policy coverage.

“The uncertainty surrounding healthcare coverage is unsettling for many people and their families,” Bramnick said. “Swift and decisive action must be taken to ensure 90,000 New Jerseyans will not lose their health insurance.”

According to Bramnick, in order to bring those Blue Cross basic and essential plans into ACA compliance, the changes that would have to be made would lead to higher premiums.

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Nia Gill will convene a hearing Thursday at 1 p.m. to take testimony on various aspects of this confusing situation.

Officials from the Department of Banking and Insurance have been asked to appear.

“This is certainly a matter that cannot be taken lightly or without public discussion by the decision makers,” Gill said in announcing the hearing regarding these so-called transitional policies that would be in effect next year.

Advocates: Healthy dose of information could help ‘Obamacare’ consumers