We’ve all heard of a neighbor or friend’s difficulty finding or keeping quality, affordable health insurance. A recent study confirms what we all know, and shows that it is an even bigger problem than we may have realized.
The report, authored collaboratively by Healthier Workforce Center for Excellence (HWCE) at the University of Iowa College of Public Health and two private firms, David P. Lind & Associates and the State Public Policy Group — found that while all Iowans are feeling the pinch of growing insurance costs, rural Iowans were more likely to skip routine visits to the doctor, not fill a prescription or cut back on their dosage, or switch to higher-deductible health plans or those with fewer benefits to save on medical costs.
The report notes that “unless substantial changes are made in the way Iowans receive health insurance and health care, their financial future is untenable — especially for small employers and those living and working in rural counties.”
Iowa’s lawmakers have the opportunity to make those substantial changes, as they create the structure and rules to govern new health insurance marketplaces (also known as an exchange; see our one-page backgrounder for more information) created by the new health reform law.
The Affordable Care Act allows each state to create and run a health insurance marketplace. This will stop insurers from denying coverage and varying premium price on anything other than age and smoking status. Additionally, each plan sold in the exchange will offer a complete list of benefits mandated by the law. Consumers earning below 400 percent of the federal poverty rate ($89,400 for a family of four in 2011) will receive sliding scale premium assistance through advanced federal tax credits. Small businesses, the self-employed and families who do not receive insurance through employment will be immediately eligible in 2014 to purchase insurance through these marketplaces.
However, for consumers to fully benefit from the health law, state policymakers must act before January 1, 2013, (though the marketplaces will not be operational until 2014) and do so in the interest of consumers. The most recent legislative session saw two exchange or marketplace proposals, both of which ultimately failed; one contained strong consumer protections, while the other sacrificed the needs of Iowa health consumers to the insurance broker industry. That leaves Iowa legislators with one more complete legislative session to create a strong marketplace that will benefit Iowa consumers.
All Iowans, and especially owners and employees of small businesses and those in rural areas, need Iowa’s lawmakers to put health insurance needs above the interests of the insurance companies and insurance brokers.