Shots - Health News
1:51 pm
Tue November 5, 2013

In Colorado, A Couple Finds Relief In Obamacare

Originally published on Wed November 6, 2013 2:07 pm

There's plenty of criticism of the Affordable Care Act and how it's being implemented.

But let's introduce you to someone who is quite pleased with her Obamacare experience: Lela Petersen of Flagler, Colo. She's a small business owner with a very big health insurance bill.

But thanks to the health law, she expects that bill will be cut by more than half in January.

Petersen is 57, and her husband, Mike, is 60. They have some pre-existing conditions. He has diabetes. She has a back injury. The HMO policy they've carried since 1992 has risen over the years to $1,950 per month, just for the two of them.

"When you pay $1,950 for insurance you might as well forget retirement," says Petersen says. "There's just no way." Five years ago, she was planning on an early retirement, but she didn't anticipate health insurance costing as much as the rest of her bills combined.

At the beginning of October she checked out Colorado's insurance exchange and found the exact same policy from the same insurer for only $832 a month. "It's dropping us down about $1,100 a month. We can retire. We can go fishing. We can actually see a future," says Petersen.

Becoming part of an insurance pool helped Petersen reduce her cost. The federal law also forbids insurance companies from charging more for pre-existing conditions. That saved her a lot. And federal tax credits brought the cost down even further.

The Affordable Care Act will bring big changes for a lot of people, especially those who want to retire before they're eligible for Medicare. A 2012 survey by Employee Benefit Research Institute found 53 percent of workers polled planned to stay in their jobs longer than they wanted to, so they could keep health insurance through their employer.

So, clearly, lots of people feel tethered to their jobs because of health insurance, but it doesn't mean legions will follow Petersen into early retirement.

"We don't really know how it's going to play out at this point, how many people will choose to do something different and how fast that might happen," says Paul Fronstin, director of the health research program at EBRI.

Fronstin points out that poll was taken in 2012, before a lot of people understood how the Affordable Care Act would affect them. Even now many are unsure.

"There's a lack of knowledge about the law because people can't get on the website and find out what the premiums are for them," says Fronstin.

Colorado has been one of the exceptions. It's among the 14 states and District of Columbia that are running their own healthcare exchanges and websites.

"We went up and opened the website on Oct. 1, and the technology has been up and operational since that point in time," says Patty Fontneau, CEO of Connect for Health Colorado. Lela Petersen found the Colorado website confusing, so she got help over the telephone with only minor wait times.

Petersen doesn't belong to a political party and says she votes across the spectrum. But she lives in a solidly Republican area and her positive opinion of Obamacare is not widely shared by her neighbors. "Even my son is against it, so we do argue about that," says Petersen. Still, she's signed up and her new, cheaper, policy will take effect on January first.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Well, here's one positive anecdote about the Affordable Care Act. We're about to meet Lela Petersen, who lives in rural Colorado. She's a small business owner. NPR interviewed her for a healthcare series back in 2009. NPR's Jeff Brady checked in again with Petersen and he learned that her expensive health insurance is about to become more affordable.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Lela Petersen owns a store out on the eastern plains of Colorado in the small town of Flagler, population 600. The business is best described by its name.

LELA PETERSEN: It's the Anything and Everything Store.

BRADY: In this big open metal building, you can find a second-hand couch, a new watch and Christmas decorations. Locals jokingly call it the Flagler Walmart. As business owners, health insurance is a challenge. Petersen is 57 years old, her husband is 60. They have some pre-existing conditions. He has diabetes and she has a back injury. The HMO policy they've carried since 1992 now costs $1,950 a month.

PETERSEN: When you pay 1,950 for insurance you might as well forget retirement. There's just no way.

BRADY: Petersen and her husband planned to retire early, five years ago, but she never imagined that health insurance would cost as much as the rest of her bills combined. At the beginning of October she checked out Colorado's insurance exchange set up under the Affordable Care Act and she was pleasantly surprised.

PETERSEN: We've got on the exact same company we were with, the exact same plan, and for both of us we'll pay $832.

BRADY: Becoming part of a pool helped Petersen. The new law also forbids insurance companies from charging more for pre-existing conditions. That saved her a lot. And federal tax credits brought the cost down even further.

PETERSEN: It's dropping us down by $1100 a month.

BRADY: $1100 a month. What does that mean to you? I mean, how will that change your life?

PETERSEN: Well, we can retire. We can go fishing. We can actually see a future.

BRADY: The Affordable Care Act could mean big changes for lots of people, especially those who want to retire before they're eligible for Medicare. In 2012, the Employee Benefit Research Institute conducted a survey of workers. It found more than half planned to stay in their jobs longer than they wanted to, so they could keep health insurance through their employer.

Paul Fronstin directs the health research program at the Institute.

PAUL FRONSTIN: We'll see how this plays out. It's going to be interesting to watch because we don't really know how it's going to play out at this point, and how many people will choose to do something different and how fast that might happen.

BRADY: Fronstin says that poll was taken in 2012, before a lot of people understood how the Affordable Care Act would affect them. And he says even now many are unsure.

FRONSTIN: There's a lot of lack of knowledge about the law because people can't get on the website and find out what the premiums are for them.

BRADY: Colorado is an exception. It's among the 14 states and District of Columbia that are running their own healthcare exchanges and websites. Patty Fontneau is CEO of Connect for Health Colorado.

PATTY FONTNEAU: Well, we went up and opened the website on October 1, and it's really the technology has been up and operational since that point in time.

BRADY: Back out in Flagler, Lela Petersen says the website was confusing, but she got the answers she needed over the telephone. Regarding the politics, Petersen doesn't belong to a political party and she says she votes across the spectrum. But she lives in a solidly Republican area and out here her views on Obamacare are not widely shared.

PETERSEN: And we've heard a lot about the healthcare and how awful it was and even my son is against it, so we do argue about that.

BRADY: Lela Petersen and her husband are signed up for their new, much cheaper policy under the Affordable Care Act now, and it will take effect on January first. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Flagler, Colorado. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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