A self-employed certified public accountant, Rhonda Howard is among 500 CPAs, attorneys and dentists across central and western Oklahoma who had to scramble for new health insurance last fall, after receiving notice that their policies would be canceled Dec. 31 because — effective Jan. 1 — the Affordable Care Act no longer allows Aetna to insure them as a group.
Howard said she enrolled her family in a new ACA-compliant Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Oklahoma (BCBSOK) plan in mid-November but, as of Tuesday, had yet to receive their new insurance cards or policy. When she went to fill a prescription this month, she gave her pharmacist her identification but he couldn't pull up anything, Howard said.
She paid about $15 more than she has in the past for the meds and is still waiting on her proof of insurance.
Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Oklahoma spokeswoman Ashley Hudgeons said about 90 percent of enrollees with Jan. 1 effective dates have been billed and received notices that their insurance cards have been mailed.
“For others, we will continue to do everything we can to ensure that people in Oklahoma can get the help and coverage they need,” Hudgeons said. Blue Cross, she said, has reassigned and trained personnel to help field the influx of calls to its customer call centers, and extended call center hours to include Saturdays.
Hudgeons said it takes five to 10 business days to process applications, but if Oklahomans, like Howard, applied weeks ago and still haven't heard anything, they — if they applied with BCBSOK online — should call (866) 520-2507. Or, if they applied through the federally run health insurance marketplace, they should call (800) 318-2596, Hudgeons said.
‘A lot of moving pieces'
It's not just Blue Cross and Blue Shield that's having the delayed insurance cards problem but all carriers, said Jennifer Beale of Beale Professional Services, which managed the former group plan for individuals and small groups of the Oklahoma Bar Association, the Oklahoma Society of Certified Public Accountants and the Oklahoma Dental Association.
Beale said her firm is fielding several calls a day about the lack of cards, mainly from customers who elected to fax applications. “For those who applied online, things seem to be going smoothly,” Beale said. “But everything was so late getting approved, with carriers enrolling people by Dec. 23 for a Jan. 1 effective date, that there are a lot of moving pieces,” she said.
There's a small percentage still waiting to be approved and entered into active status, she said. “And if you're not in the system, you can't pay for insurance.”
Beale said rates are surprisingly affordable but a lot of her customers have higher deductibles. “You can‘t really compare apples to apples, since the old plans aren't available,” she said. “Where we see people paying higher premiums are younger families,” she said.
Rhonda Howard, 50, is paying $687.95 a month to cover herself, her husband, 51, and daughter, 18, with a $12,700 deductible and maximum out-of-pocket per-person cost of $6,000, as long as they use in-network providers.
That's down from her latest monthly premium of $1,042.75, with a $6,000 deductible. Her family virtually has had no medical costs, she said. But a surgery, which one of her kids had years ago, excluded them from most plans, she said.
Howard's husband, who's run a home-based business since they had their children, now 23 and 18, recently accepted a new corporate job and will become eligible for insurance as early as next month, she said.
Meanwhile, Howard hopes it's easier to drop her new insurance coverage than it's been signing up for it.
By the numbers
As of Dec. 31, the new federally run health insurance marketplace in Oklahoma has processed 32,908 applications, covering 51,623 individuals. Of the 14,999 people who selected a marketplace plan, 72 percent received financial assistance. Another 6,476 were found eligible for Medicaid.