Obamacare has been called a disaster by one presidential candidate. The other wants to fix it. And her husband has called it the “craziest thing in the world”. That’s because as premiums rise, a program to make health care affordable for all has become unaffordable for many. But there are some 44,000 New Jersey residents who aren’t taking advantage of the subsidies they’re entitled to. Jackie Cornell is Health and Human Services regional director. She spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.
Williams: Why are so many New Jerseyans who have the health insurance paying full freight when they don’t have to?
Cornell: So we believe that they just don’t know that there are options to get the subsidies. So what we’re trying to do is do more outreach into communities through hand by hand talking to folks in communities but also doing some mail to let them know that there are subsidies available so that they should be taking advantage of each of those subsidies.
Williams: Can you tell as an administrator, a government administrator through the private carriers, can you tell who is eligible and who is not?
Cornell: We can’t tell specific individuals, who is eligible, who is not, but we have estimates of where we think these individuals are based. One of the things that we’re working to do is make sure that the issuers are doing their good work to be talking to folks as well and making sure that they are informing people when they may or may not be eligible for additional subsidies.
Williams: We only have two issuers left. Everybody else has fled saying that it’s difficult and risky — they call it risky — to cover people who haven’t had health insurance before. Why would that be?
Cornell: In part, the issue that we have found is that some who have not had coverage for decades have a lot of unchecked health needs, right, because they haven’t had coverage. And so part of what we’re doing is making sure that we’re getting everyone enrolled — young people, healthy people, as well as those who might have some complex needs — and that will overall bring the pool down, the risk pool down for everyone.
Williams: But will that bring insurers back into the exchange?
Cornell: So the issue with this is that this entire thing, the Affordable Care Act, was built on a competitive consumer model that has existed for years. We didn’t sort of throw out what we were using. We just added protections and regulations and savings to the American people into an established market. Now the ebb and flow of that market is subject to supply and demand and sort of what people need and how they’re using it. So I think some this is just the nature of a competitive market.
Williams: Some health insurers have asked for rate increases in the 2017 year. The open enrollment begins Nov. 1. Do you know exactly what those rate increases are going to be? Are they going to get them?
Cornell: So I haven’t seen that. I’m not privy to that right now. I think that we’re waiting and that will probably happen in the weeks leading into Nov. 1, as you mentioned. But I know that they have, across the board, been looking to sort of even out. Many have said that they under-priced things in the first few years. And as a result, that’s why they’re asking for increases now to sort of level the ground of where they thought they would be. If you look at reports out of D.C., we’ve sort of seen this trend happening, that we knew they were sort of under-requesting funds or under-requesting a rate and now they’ve got to even things out.
Williams: We’re one of the states who elected to stay on the federal exchange and not have a state exchange. Do you see that happening ever in New Jersey? And if it does, what kind of a difference would it make?
Cornell: That’s an interesting question that we’ve been getting as our politics here are changing. I think a lot will depend on what the next administration wants to do and how they want to prioritize it. There are a lot of benefits to being part of the federal marketplace, but there are a lot of benefits to being state-run as well. And I think it will really depend on what kind of resources the state wants to put towards running the exchange and running the marketplace.
Williams: OK, Jackie Cornell, thanks for being with us.
Cornell: Thank you so much.