Oregonians can sign up for health insurance on the statewide exchange Cover Oregon beginning Tuesday.
The exchange, Oregon’s response to the Affordable Care Act, will allow individuals and small businesses to comparison shop for insurance plans offered by 11 medical carriers and nine dental carriers. The Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, requires everyone to obtain health insurance by Jan. 1.
Oregon residents who choose a plan through Cover Oregon by Dec. 15 will have coverage in time to meet the federal mandate.
Cover Oregon, found at coveroregon.com, has been advertising with the slogan, “Long Live Oregonians.”
Insurance and nonprofit agencies are hiring employees to help consumers make sense of the new rules and choose plans.
Gordon Wood Insurance Agency in Roseburg and Atrio Health Plans combined to open a storefront in the Roseburg Valley Mall.
Insurance agent Kelsey Wood said two employees have been hired to field questions and help people sign up for insurance.
The Umpqua Community Health Center in Roseburg has added two staff members to help patients sign up for coverage. The South River Medical Clinic in Winston is in the process of hiring an additional staff member. United Community Action Network is interviewing candidates for an outreach position and has mobilized volunteers with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program to spread information about Cover Oregon.
They are among dozens of community-based organizations statewide which have received state grants to help people enroll.
UCAN Director Mike Fieldman said he believes Cover Oregon will benefit a lot of southern Oregonians.
“We see the consequences in people’s lives when they don’t have health care,” Fieldman said. “I think this is a great opportunity for people who are struggling with health care needs who don’t have health insurance. They’re going to get an opportunity through the exchange to find something affordable.”
About 19 percent of Douglas County residents are uninsured, according to a report from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which consistently ranks Douglas one of Oregon’s unhealthiest counties.
Umpqua Community Health Center Development Coordinator Brenda Lewis said about 4,000 of the center’s patients are uninsured.
More people will qualify for the Oregon Health Plan under an expansion of benefits included in the Affordable Care Act, but Lewis is concerned many patients will still not qualify who mistakenly believe they will receive free health insurance under the new rules.
“I think people should try to not jump to any conclusions. What I don’t want to see is perhaps a lot of folks being disappointed they are going to have to pay something,” Lewis said.
She also cautioned that access to insurance does not guarantee medical care.
“The fact that everybody has insurance doesn’t mean there’s an open appointment,” Lewis said. “We still have a shortage of providers and we still struggle with attracting providers to our community.”
Wood said everyone who buys individual insurance should take a look at what’s offered on the exchange. Many will save money, he said.
Families with incomes less than 400 percent of the poverty level will receive tax subsidies. A family of four making less than $96,000 will be eligible for subsidies.
He said coverage also will be better for many, with out-of-pocket expenses cut to around $6,000 — half what they are for many individual insurance plans today.
Wood said it’s worth checking into for everyone who buys their own insurance.
“One hundred percent of people with individual polices ought to be shopping to find out what their options are,” Wood said.
Cover Oregon will rank plans bronze, silver, gold or platinum based on what they offer and customer satisfaction.
Each plan on the exchange will be required to cover 10 basic types of care, such as preventive medicine, prescription drugs, pediatric dental care, vision care and mental health treatment. Consumers using the site will be able to compare insurance plans and discover how much their premiums will be and what financial aid they qualify for.
People gearing up to help people sign up for insurance say they are not sure what to expect.
“It’s one of the biggest social experiments since Medicare,” Wood said.
Lewis expects a “bumpy ride” ahead as people adjust to the new system.
“The next couple of months are going to be really interesting as we see how this works,” she said.
Bruce Piper, director of ADAPT, which operates the South River Medical Clinic, said he doesn’t know what will happen.
“This is completely new and there’s been a lot of confusion about it. Even people who live and breathe health care every day are not sure what to expect,” Piper said.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or email@example.com.