U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and other supporters of the federal health care law are calling the Oct. 1 start of the health insurance enrollment period "a milestone moment" for Ohioans.
Two weeks before enrollment opens, Brown said a new study by Families USA shows more than 916,000 Ohioans will be eligible to receive financial help to buy affordable and accessible health coverage through the federal program.
The announcement came during a conference call with journalists Wednesday, where Brown was joined by Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a nonprofit and nonpartisan national organization for health care consumers, and Col Owns, the co-chairman of Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage, a coalition representing the state's health care consumers.
Ohio declined to set up the exchanges, so the federal government is doing it while Ohio is reserving the oversight.
Pollack said there is a little confusion because Ohio is maintaining some responsibility for plan management and regulation of the insurance industry in the state.
"There's a little bit of irony in that conservative state governors and legislatures want the state, not the feds, to run stuff," but now some states are leaving it up to the federal government, Owens said.
Brown said the new law will help end Ohioans' anxiety and fear of losing their health care because of pre-existing conditions or because they change jobs.
Brown said the health insurance marketplace will lower premiums for some Americans nearly 14 percent more than previously expected. Pollack said the new law "is going to provide enormous protection for people."
Brown said he will be enrolling in the new Ohio marketplace "along with hundreds of thousands of my fellow Ohioans." It was the completion of a promise he made twenty years ago, while running for Congress, when he promised he would not accept Congressional health insurance "until similar coverage was available to all Americans."
For those enrolling through the exchange, the law provides for financial help on a sliding scale for low- and moderate-income people who do not have meaningful job-based health coverage, Pollack said.
For example, he said, a family of three with an income of $29,000 to $30,000 is estimated to need $8,250 per year for its coverage premium. That family will qualify for a subsidy of nearly $7,100. If the family income is between $39,000 and $40,000 a year, the subsidy would be nearly $7,100.
One of the biggest questions is how Ohioans will find answers to how to access the new exchange.
"There are excellent statewide coalitions working in Ohio" to get information out, Owens said. Those include a network of foodbanks working with other nonprofits, and federally qualified health centers are also doing outreach and enrollment.
Brown said the enrollment drive "is going to be harder to do because of intransigence and partisan politics on the part of the state legislature."
Brown and Pollack said they expected few employers to end their company insurance plans and put employees to the exchanges.
"We expect very little of that" because most employers want to do the right thing, Brown said.
Brown said the law has already benefited millions of Ohioans by ending lifetime caps on insurance coverage and preventing companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions by denying coverage or charging exorbitant prices.
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