Kris Martinez has eagerly awaited the rollout of the Affordable Care Act since it became law.
As of noon Wednesday, the 33-year-old Salt Lake City resident had yet to be able to log on to compare insurance plans, but the computer glitch caused when millions overloaded the federal health exchange website was not what was frustrating him.
Town Hall set
On Oct. 9 at 7 p.m., The Salt Lake Tribune and KCPW will co-sponsor an Affordable Care Act town-hall meeting at Salt Lake City Main Library’s auditorium, 210 E. 400 South. Reporter Jennifer Napier-Pearce will moderate a discussion with a panel of experts, who also will answer questions.
It was the showdown in Washington and continued talk from some Republicans, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee, of repealing, defunding or delaying the health care law.
"I’ll be frustrated if that happens," Martinez said. "I just don’t think this is the way to run a country."
Martinez — who works for a small company that doesn’t provide health insurance and, because of a pre-existing condition, has to pay an exorbitant amount for coverage — plans to ignore the political fight and see if there is a less-expensive option under the Affordable Care Act.
Count Martinez among the tens of thousands of Utahns and millions of Americans hungering for health insurance. For them, this issue isn’t politics — it’s personal.
"It is still something I need to do for me, whether the government is shut down or not," Martinez said. " ... If it gets defunded, it’s just more of the same."
Some Utahns are taking a wait-and-see approach as the federal government shutdown slogs on because they are confused about what effect it might have on the health care law.
The short answer: none.
The program has passed Congress, been signed into law, survived a national election, been upheld by the country’s highest court and is now in place. In fact, the ACA is largely untouched by the shutdown because the law is self-funded through different taxes and budget carve-outs, instead of a direct appropriation. In other words, it’s not subject to budget debates.
Federal grants to help states enact the law — adopt and enforce new insurance regulations and Medicaid eligibility rules — were allocated long ago.
"The grant money is there and we are drawing on it," said Jason Stevenson, a spokesman for the Utah Health Policy Project, which directs a network of navigators charged with helping consumers shop the federal health insurance marketplace, or exchange.
The money could run out, he said, but not until August.
That’s true, too, of funding for health safety-net programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had to furlough 40,512 employees, or about 52 percent of its workforce, the agency announced in its contingency plan. Enough staffers were exempted from the shutdown, though, to keep the exchange going along with other "essential" services.
An unlikely possibility is that the shutdown plods on so long the Internal Revenue Service stops collecting taxes and the money funding the ACA runs out.
Christina Postolowski, a senior policy analyst for the advocacy group Young Invincibles, which is working to enroll the more than 19 million young adults ages 18 to 34 across the U.S., said field workers reported strong interest in the health care marketplaces.
Fear about defunding "isn’t a concern we have been hearing a lot about," she said. "We’re hearing more from people who are uninsured or have a pre-existing condition ... and are eager to find out how they can get better coverage."
The enrollment window covers six months, she said, so people have time to look at options and see what Congress does.
But there is still plenty of confusion.
Sandy resident Angie Jackson plans to hold off on signing up for coverage while she researches the ACA and Congress sorts out its disagreements.Next Page >
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