9/12/2013 3:53:00 PM County staff on healthcare changes: give it some time
by DENISE MARTIN
If you’re concerned that you are confused over options for health care plans; as massive revisions to America’s system of providing healthcare loom, don’t be. Even the people who work in this field don’t have all the answers, and the theme last week in a presentation to the County Board was that people need to relax and let the details crystalize for a while yet. Chisago County Income Maintenance Supervisor Todd McMurray said the county’s health care call center has already had inquiries from people worried about deadlines under the Affordable Care Act mandates.
The ACA, he added, is an unprecedented systemic change. He and county staff in Health & Human Services are simply telling some people “we just don’t know yet” in response to finer points of implemeting the ACA. “The state holds all the cards,” McMurray continued. The state awards the contracts for health care plans to be made available to people qualifying for assistance. The state develops the technology for processing applications and the rules for applying. Some of that legwork is done but not all. “Open enrollment” in health care plans under the federal law doesn’t start until October 1 but Minnesota’s help line and marketing push statewide have begun. State officials are encouraging health care plan applications be filed electronically which means having access to the Internet. Commissioner George McMahon said area libraries are getting questions from patrons using library computers, and librarians don’t know how to advise patrons.
McMahon said it would be helpful if county staff worked with the regional library administration to coordinate availability of information. There will be paper brochures with info and applications, but those don’t get widely distributed until October, McMurray explained. In the meantime county workers involved in ACA rollout will get in touch with library officials and see what problems are developing. McMurray said one good thing about the new computer system supporting the ACA rollout, is that “...the days of social workers chasing paper to document” applicants’ reported income are over. There’s a new interface in the software that is meant to “ping” an applicant’s personal information directly to a federal employee I.D. (social secrity number) and last year’s income tax filings.
The goal is to get everybody on an “affordable” health care plan, appropriate to their situation, so income is the key factor. As a matter of policy Minnesota is embracing the ACA and the required insurance exchange where plans can be shopped. The state wants all Minnesota residents on some health care plan by the end of this year. If you are not enrolled there will be a fee assessed against you on your taxes. If you utilize a county employee or “in person assister” in determining which plan is best for you at your income level, Chisago County also gets $70 per enrollee, which will help subsidize local government costs of ACA implementation. The state website at www.mnsure.org is a useful reference, McMurray added.
Various business owners may also want to check with their chambers of commerce or accounting professionals to learn more about business-provided health care deadlines. For at least the first year (2014) all businesses of 50 and fewer employees have been exempted from ACA mandates and those plans should remain unaffected.