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1409_Sustainer-Tiffany

From Paying $1,000 A Month For Health Care To $100

By | January 29, 2014 - 5:18 pm

A Juneau woman says getting insurance under the Affordable Care Act means she’ll take better care of herself. Prior to January 1st, Bonnie Berg was paying up to $1000 a month for health insurance. Now, she’s paying less than $100.

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Bonnie Berg spent most of her professional career working in social services. She always had insurance through her job and when she retired in August 2010, she kept it through COBRA.

“I was paying about a $1000 a month, and about $250 each quarter for my basic meds. So in other words, it was costing me $13,000 a year just for the dead basics,” she explains.

After 18 months on COBRA, Berg switched to a catastrophic plan, which cost $526 each month. She paid close to $900 every quarter for two asthma medications. Her deductible was $5,000.

Bonnie Berg. Photo by Lisa Phu, KTOO - Juneau.

Bonnie Berg. Photo by Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau.

In the 40 months since retirement, Berg went to the doctor only twice. “I wasn’t willing to pay for any tests on my own. I wasn’t willing to do anything the doctor really wanted me to do, unless I was having an episode,” Berg says. “I probably allowed myself the worse medical care of my life at the time I was paying huge prices.”

When the Affordable Care Act became law, Berg wanted to be on a health plan as soon as she could, though she will qualify for Medicare in eight months. “This is going to save me $4- or $5,000 just in eight months. If anything happens, it’s going to save me a lot more than that,” she says.

Berg tried to navigate healthcare.gov on her own in mid-October, but didn’t get anywhere. Then she found someone to help.

“That makes a huge difference. You really need to do a hook-up with a navigator who has done this for a few people now or an agent with Enroll Alaska. It’s free. They know exactly what questions to ask. They put it all in in the correct format and tell you what to do next,” Berg says.

Berg now pays $90 a month for health insurance. Her deductible is $250 and her maximum out of pocket is $500.

Enroll Alaska’s Chief Operating Officer Tyann Boiling says Berg’s case is not rare:

“We get a lot of very, very happy people that are getting health insurance for the first time or they’re getting health insurance that’s affordable to them for the first time.”

Boling says about 80 percent of people signing up with Enroll Alaska receive financial assistance.

Juneau’s United Way Navigator Crystal Bourland says people are also happy to find their plans include free preventative services, like cholesterol screenings, colonoscopies, and immunizations, ”Regardless of which plan they choose they can still go to the doctor to get preventative and wellness checks. Just some of those added protections that exist under the Affordable Care Act, I think, is usually pretty surprising for people.”

Despite the positives, Enroll Alaska’s Boling says the health brokerage firm has made 1,100 enrollments, but she thinks that should be at least 15,000 by now. She blames the early troubles with the healthcare.gov website, “We lost two full months of enrolling people and those were critical months. That’s where the momentum was and we couldn’t get people enrolled. I think that we lost a lot of people and we lost them for good.”

Bonnie Berg was not one of those people. She worked with an agent for more than a month before she successfully enrolled in mid-December. Now, she says, she’s ready to take better care of herself:

“I’m going to be putting some thought into my health which is a good thing for anybody to do.”

The deadline to apply for a plan that starts in March is February 15. Open enrollment ends March 31 and won’t begin again until November.

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