Washington, other states make Obamacare work

November 19, 2013 

In our states — Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut — the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is working. Tens of thousands of our residents have enrolled in affordable health-care coverage. Many of them could not get insurance before the law was enacted.

People keep asking us why our states have been successful. Here’s a hint: It’s not about our websites.

Sure, having functioning websites for our health-care exchanges makes the job of meeting the enormous demand for affordable coverage much easier, but each of our state websites has had its share of technical glitches. As we have demonstrated on a near-daily basis, websites can continually be improved to meet consumers’ needs.

The Affordable Care Act has been successful in our states because our political and community leaders grasped the importance of expanding health-care coverage and have avoided the temptation to use health-care reform as a political football.

In Washington, the Legislature authorized Medicaid expansion with overwhelmingly bipartisan votes in the House and Senate this summer because legislators understood that it could help create more than 10,000 jobs, save more than $300 million for the state in the first 18 months, and, most important, provide several hundred thousand uninsured Washingtonians with health coverage.

In Kentucky, two independent studies showed that the Bluegrass State couldn’t afford not to expand Medicaid. Expansion offered huge savings in the state budget and is expected to create 17,000 jobs.

In Connecticut, more than 50 percent of enrollment in the state exchange, Access Health CT, is for private health insurance. The Connecticut exchange has a customer satisfaction level of 96.5 percent, according to a survey of users in October, with more than 82 percent of enrollees either “extremely likely” or “very likely” to recommend the exchange to a colleague or friend.

In our states, elected leaders have decided to put people, not politics, first.

President Obama announced an administrative change last week that would allow insurance companies to continue offering existing plans to those who want to keep them. It is up to state insurance commissioners to determine how and whether this option works for their states, and individual states will come to different conclusions.

What we all agree with completely, though, is the president’s insistence that our country cannot go back to the dark days before health-care reform, when people were regularly dropped from coverage, and those with “bare bones” plans ended up in medical bankruptcy when serious illness struck, many times because their insurance didn’t cover much of anything.

Thanks to health-care reform and the robust exchanges in our states, people are getting better coverage at a better price.

One such person is Brad Camp, a small-business owner in Kingston, Wash., who received a cancellation notice in September from his insurance carrier. He went to the state exchange, the Washington Healthplanfinder, and for close to the same premium his family was paying before got upfront coverage for doctor’s office visits and prescription drug, vision and dental coverage. His family was able to keep the same insurance carrier and doctors and qualified for tax credits to help cover the cost.

Since Howard Stovall opened his sign and graphics business in Lexington, Ky., in 1998, he has paid half the cost of health insurance for his eight employees. With the help of Stovall’s longtime insurance agent and Kentucky’s health exchange, Kynect, Stovall’s employees are saving 5 percent to 40 percent each on new health insurance plans with better benefits.

Stovall can afford to provide additional employee benefits, including full disability coverage and part of the cost of vision and dental plans, while still saving the business 50 percent compared with the old plans.

In Connecticut, Anne Masterson was able to reduce her monthly premiums from $965 to $313 for similar coverage, including a $145 tax credit. Masterson is able to use her annual premium savings of $8,000 to pay bills or save for retirement.

These sorts of stories could be happening in every state if politicians would quit rooting for failure and directly undermining implementation of the Affordable Care Act — and, instead, put their constituents first.

Health reform is working for the people of Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut because elected leaders on both sides of the aisle came together to do what is right for their residents.

We urge Congress to get out of the way and to support efforts to make health-care reform work for everyone. We urge our fellow governors, most especially those in states that refused to expand Medicaid, to make health-care reform work for their people too.

Jay Inslee is governor of Washington. Steve Beshear is governor of Kentucky. Dannel P. Malloy, is governor of Connecticut. All three are Democrats. They wrote this for The Washington Post.

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