DES MOINES, Iowa
(AP) - Jason Sanford has heard so many rumors about the changing health care
landscape that every few weeks he dials a local information desk, seeking
just a rough estimate of what his diabetes medication will soon cost him.
The answer is the
same every time: It’s too early to say, even with the next open enrollment
period under the Affordable Care Act beginning in two weeks.
hearsay,” said the 55-year-old sales representative from Davenport. “There’s
no channel for information that I’m getting anywhere.”
failed attempts in Congress to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law,
Americans across the country are grappling with unanswered questions about
how “Obamacare” will function during the six-week sign-up period beginning
The confusion is
especially pronounced in Iowa, which is seeking last-minute federal approval
to revamp its individual insurance market.
mounted in recent days amid a push by President Donald Trump to allow the
purchase of skimpier insurance plans than the ACA requires and a move by the
president to cut off federal payments that help keep consumer costs down.
Then on Tuesday, some senators announced a tentative agreement to continue
What it all means
for Iowa isn’t clear. Its proposal, known as the stopgap measure, would be
unlike any other state’s health insurance market. It would replace the
variety of plans from which people can choose with just one plan for
everyone, and the cost would be based not just on income, but on age.
Critics say it
could prove more expensive for individuals with high-cost medical needs.
State officials argue the higher out-of-pocket expenses would be offset by
lower monthly premiums.
Gail Orcutt, of the
Des Moines suburb of Pleasant Hill, receives costly chemotherapy for lung
cancer. She attended some meetings over the summer on the stopgap measure,
though she said she left confused.
Because she doesn’t
know what her costs will be next year, she is considering putting off some
periodic scans that help detect if her disease is spreading.
“I just might need
to skip those until I’m on Medicare,” said the 64-year-old retired
elementary school teacher, who will be eligible in May for the national
health program for older Americans.
Reyma McCoy McDeid
hears concerns like Orcutt’s almost every morning when she listens to
voicemails from strangers who have called into the Central Iowa Center for
Independent Living, a disabled-services center where she is executive
She tries to
provide as much as information as she can - which often is little more than
the callers already know.
“I listen,” she
said. “I think that’s something that people are needing right now. I think a
lot of people are overwhelmed. Health care is an extremely important part of
being alive, and people are feeling really vulnerable.”
Jennifer Busch, who
typically answers Sanford’s calls about diabetes, is one of a small number
of federally funded “navigators” in Iowa whose job is to help people enroll
in the insurance marketplace. For now, she offers only general answers
because she hasn’t received word from the state on how everything would work
under the stopgap.
“It’s difficult to
reassure people because I don’t know what the picture looks like either,”
said Busch, who works for Genesis Health System.
Some health care
experts say if Iowa’s plan is approved in the next two weeks, there won’t be
enough time to inform people adequately about the changes.
“It’s just hard to
imagine there’s not going to be mass confusion,” said Timothy Jost, a
retired professor at Washington and Lee University’s law school.
Earlier this month,
The Washington Post reported Trump personally asked federal officials to
reject the Iowa plan. State officials dismissed the report, and the Iowa
Insurance Commission said it expects an answer soon.
Chance McElhaney, a
commission spokesman, said the state is already talking about the stopgap
measure with insurance agents and navigators and will be ready to roll out
the plan quickly, informing the public via radio and newspaper ads and
social media. And Gov. Kim Reynolds assured reporters this week: “We’ve got
a process in place.”
is waiting. He said he pays about $350 a month for insurance under the ACA
and has seen unverified estimates his bill could soon double.
“My health is the
most personal thing in my life, and with the help of the ACA, I was able to
manage it,” he said. “Now I have a big question mark.”