HOUGHTON - Signups for Michigan's online health insurance marketplace began Tuesday, though many were unable to sign up because of opening-day glitches.
Michigan residents can go to healthcare.gov to sign up for a plan and find out what plans and financial aid are available.
Many people have had the idea that the health care law creates a uniform plan with "an Obamacare card," said Ray Sharp, community planning and preparedness manager for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department. But that's a misconception; Michigan residents can choose a minimum of 31 plans.
This capture from the website healthcare.gov takes those interested in the new health care exchanges through step-by-step instructions. The cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act became available for the first time Tuesday, however computer glitches prevented many without insurance from signing up on the first day.
"It's a marketplace, and there's competition among various providers offering various levels of insurance plans in that marketplace," Sharp said.
Prices for the plans vary depending on the level of coverage, ranging from bronze to platinum. It also depends on age, hometown, insurance status of family members, and whether or not the person smokes.
For example, a single 30-year-old non-smoker in Houghton making $30,000 a year would pay an estimated $2,512 of the annual $3,007 cost for a silver plan. In return, they would receive a tax credit of up to $496, 17 percent of the premium. At a $20,000 salary, the premium price drops to $1,021 and the tax credit rises to $1,986 - 66 percent.
Navigators and certified application counselors are being trained nationwide to help explain the programs.
Certified application counselors at the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community began helping people Tuesday. Only a handful of people had stopped by on the first day, said health administrator Carol LaPointe. Their biggest question was about eligibility.
The KBIC is sending letters to tribal members and descendants about the health insurance marketplace. LaPointe anticipates more sign-ups before the end of the year.
"I think a lot of the not showing up or not calling had to do with the government shutdown," she said. "I personally anticipate we will get a lot signed up. For many of them, it is their first opportunity to have access to health insurance."
Western Upper Peninsula District Health Department employees are being trained this week to become certified application counselors. Starting next week, the department will take appointments by phone to help people determine if they are eligible for the programs, and to complete online applications. People can call the department at 482-7382 to sign up for appointments.
"They can do it themselves, but if they go there, and it looks complicated to them and they have questions, they can come to the Health Department and our certified application counselor can assist them with enrollment," said Ray Sharp.
The health insurance exchanges are a key part of the Affordable Care Act, which will require most Americans to have health care coverage. Tuesday began a six-month open enrollment period during which people can sign up for insurance without penalties. The policies purchased will take effect starting Jan. 1. Tax credits are available for people earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty line.
Obama administration officials said 2.8 million users visited the healthcare.gov website during the first 15 hours after the exchanges opened.
Michigan is one of 36 states whose health plan is being administered through the federal government. States that had set up their own exchanges had more lead time to get the word out about the programs, Sharp said.
"Michigan has not had as much public information yet, but we're working quickly to catch up," Sharp said.
The state estimates 365,000 to 1.3 million people could sign up on the market in 2014. But the Center for Healthcare Research & Transformation at the University of Michigan projects just 127,000 enrollees next year, not counting workers who could be moved into the exchange by their employers.
The Health Department is taking down names of interested people this week, and will call them next week to set up appointments.
"There are people who have been waiting for years to be able to go to a doctor, but they couldn't afford it, or they had preexisting conditions that couldn't get health insurance ... phone calls to the department, and people I talk to in the community, the interest is very high," Sharp said.
To find navigators or certified application counselors, go to enrollmichigan.com. Additionally, the Kaiser Family Foundation has created a calculator to estimate the cost of various plans at kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator.