COLUMBUS — The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.
That is what state Sen. Paul Schumacher told a group of more than 100 people who attended an informational meeting Wednesday about Nebraska’s health insurance marketplace.
“This ACA is an incredibly cobbled together thing. It’s not going to go away. It’s not going to be declared unconstitutional. It’s not going to be repealed and replaced,” Schumacher said.
He hosted the meeting with the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce at Central Community College-Columbus.
The meeting served as an overview of the Affordable Care Act and included speakers who touched on topics such as Nebraska’s marketplace, insurance plans for employers and how individuals can purchase insurance and receive tax credits.
Despite its rough edges, Schumacher said the Affordable Care Act provides a direction for the country.
“We spend more on health care than any other industrialized country, and our health care system is nowhere near the top," he said. "We are doing something wrong. At least we have a path now. Whether we like it or not, we will have to go down it."
Open enrollment in the marketplace started Oct. 1. There has been greater success for some than others in signing up for insurance through the exchange.
Ashley Frevert is navigator with the Northeast Nebraska Community Action Partnership based out of Pender. As a navigator, her role is to help individuals sign up for a plan. Since open enrollment started, Frevert said she has only had one person complete an application.
Frevert said Thurston County, where Pender is located, has the largest percent of uninsured people in the state, so the lack of interest is surprising.
“We have some idea that maybe it is because people are getting a little scared,” Frevert said, adding that individuals may not think they will be able to make it through the process.
The glitches in the federal website, healthcare.gov, could have an impact on the number of people signing up.
Numbers are better at East Central District Health Department. The certified application counselor (CAC) there has assisted 38 people who signed up through the exchange.
The health department covers four counties, including Platte, and treated about 3,400 individuals last year who did not have health insurance.
The exact number of people who have signed up for health insurance through the exchange in Nebraska isn’t known, said J.P. Sabby, an analyst with the Nebraska Department of Insurance.
“I can’t say because the federal government is not giving enrollment information. This is a federally facilitated marketplace, not a Nebraska marketplace,” Sabby said.
Jonathan Gruber, a professor at MIT and central figure in developing health care reform in Massachusetts, said it is still early in the enrollment process and the fact that the website isn’t working now doesn’t really matter.
“In Massachusetts, our first month that people could pay for insurance and enroll, 123 people enrolled. By the end of the year, when our mandate kicked in, it was 3,600,” Gruber said.
He said there won’t be a crisis with a website that isn’t working correctly until March, when the individual mandate becomes binding.
"By working what I mean is the website has to be in place to go and shop for insurance," Gruber said. "They can go enroll over the phone, that’s fine. We enroll for things over the phone all the time. That’s easy, but you can’t shop over the phone."