published Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

1.3 million in Tennessee region eligible for Obamacare subsidies

This photo provided by HHS shows the main landing web page for HealthCare.gov.
This photo provided by HHS shows the main landing web page for HealthCare.gov.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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HEALTH CARE EXCHANGE ELIGIBILITY

According to a new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, more than 1.3 million residents of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama have incomes making them eligible for tax credits to buy health insurance on federally run exchanges. Here's how it breaks down by state:

Number of tax-credit eligible residents

Tennessee: 387,000

Georgia: 654,000

Alabama: 270,000

Potential total market size for exchanges

Tennessee: 645,000

Georgia: 1.06 million

Alabama: 464,000

Check out a "subsidy calculator" on Kaiser's website to see what, if any, subsidies you may be eligible for at kff.org.

NASHVILLE -- Some 387,000 Tennesseans, 654,000 Georgians and 270,000 Alabamians now uninsured or purchasing health insurance on their own will be eligible for subsidies to help pay for coverage next year under the federal health law, according to a new analysis.

Kaiser Family Foundation projections show that 645,000 Tennesseans are eligible to buy plans on the federally-run insurance exchange that opened Oct. 1 as part of the Affordable Care Act.

In Georgia, 1.06 million people are possible customers. About 60 percent of the total in each state are eligible for the tax credits that subsidize their premiums, according to Kaiser projections.

Nationally, there are an estimated 29 million potential users of the exchanges, with 17 million of them eligible for premium assistance, according to Kaiser, a nonprofit, private foundation focusing on major health care issues.

"[The projection] sounds like a realistic number ... we have some very poor people in Tennessee and certain pockets of poverty," state Rep. Joanne Favors, D-Chattanooga, said of the Kaiser analysis. "That's why I've been working so hard to get people educated on it."

To qualify for tax credits, people must earn between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which comes to between $23,550 and $94,200 annually for a family of four. They also can't be eligible for affordable coverage from an employer or from Medicaid or Medicare.

People who are in the country illegally or who are in prison are not eligible for tax credits.

Obamacare's federally run online health exchanges, which cranked up Oct. 1, have gotten off to a rough start. Major problems with computer software have blocked users from signing up and comparing and selecting insurance policies.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, both Republicans, decided not to run their own exchanges. A number of states are running their own exchanges. States like Kentucky have had few problems, but some states have had major issues just like the federal government.

Moreover, President Barack Obama has increasingly come under fire as some people receive notices that their present health insurance policies do not comply with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Administration officials have said that people may be able to get better coverage for the same price or less, especially if they qualify for subsidies.

Last week, the state's largest insurer, Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, announced that 66,000 individual policy holders are getting notices that their health plans must change to comply with new "essential benefits" required by the Affordable Care Act.

"I've had four or five people approach me about it, that their insurance had been canceled or that their policy that they used to have did not meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act and were told to shop the exchange," said state Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson.

While complaints about the difficulty of accessing the online exchanges continue, Favors and David Yoder, vice president of American Exchange in Chattanooga, say things are improving on the health care website.

Yoder's firm is a health care brokerage that is advising people on the exchanges and signing them up. Yoder said he was finally able to complete his own application for a "bronze" plan on Oct. 12. He and his wife didn't qualify for a subsidy but wanted the additional benefits offered.

"This week the website seems to be working fairly well," Yoder said, adding that there are still glitches.

"We have a backlog of some applications," he said.

He estimates American Exchange has helped 15 Chattanooga-area residents sign up through the federal website as of Monday.

The company continues to work with 150 to 200 more that Yoder hopes "we can put through the website fairly quick."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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