Enrollment got underway – with some stumbles – in Illinois and across the nation October 1 for the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
With the roll out, citizens should be on the alert for scam artists, as law enforcement and consumer advocates warn that confusion over the massive federal healthcare program is likely to bring out identity thieves and other cons.
The first days after the launch were marked by overloaded Web sites, technical glitches and limited access to in-person counselors in some areas. In addition, the launch has highlighted concerns that the new program could have unintended consequences, particularly for part-time workers, who could see cuts in work hours.
Open enrollment is scheduled to run until April 1, but to qualify for health insurance coverage when the program actually starts on January 1, persons must be enrolled by December 15.
Affordable Care Act Enrollment Begins
A key foundation of the Affordable Care Act was the October 1 launch of health insurance exchanges, which are designed to be one-stop health insurance “malls” where qualified individuals and small employers can purchase insurance.
Applications can be made online, by mail, over the phone or in person with Illinois Department of Insurance trained advisors. The two major Web sites for the program are the state-sponsored http://getcoveredillinois.gov and the federal https://www.healthcare.gov.
More than 160 Qualified Health Plans are expected to be offered by eight insurers through the exchange. Four levels of coverage will be offered from a basic “Bronze” plan to an extensive “Platinum” plan.
Individual Coverage Mandate Penalties
Beginning in 2014, individuals who do not have “qualifying coverage” must purchase insurance or face a penalty assessed through the IRS in the same manner as a tax penalty would be collected. (During the federal budget debate, which has resulted in a temporary shutdown of much of the federal government, Congressional Republicans proposed delaying the Individual Mandate for one year.) Americans must buy/obtain “qualifying coverage” through a public program, state exchange, employer-based plan or individual market.
Health Care Launch Could Bring Out Scam Artists
Consumer advocates and law enforcement officials across the nation are cautioning consumers to be aware of one likely side effect of the launch of the Affordable Care Act – a spike in scam artists and identity theft. Advocates warn consumers to be extremely cautious about sharing personal information, especially Social Security numbers, with anyone they don’t know.
The government will not be calling or sending e-mails, so consumers who receive such contacts should be wary and never share personal information over the phone. There is no application fee or charge for assistance in choosing a plan. Beware of anyone attempting to sell such services.
Although pre-enrollment began October 1, there is no urgency to sign up for a plan. Consumers who wish to be covered as of January 1 have until December 15 to sign up. Take time to study your options and don’t feel pressured to agree to any plan.
Workers Fear Cuts in Hours under Obamacare
One of the unintended consequences of the new Federal Affordable Care Act is that some workers – especially those in service and retail jobs – may see their hours cut as employers seek to keep insurance costs down.
To track the issue, the business news site Investors.com is keeping a running list of employers that have reduced work hours or cut jobs as a direct result of Obamacare. As of September 30, they had a verified list of 313 employers.
A number of media outlets have carried stories, including Fox Business online and the British newspaper The Guardian. The Fox Business story reported, “The list of companies moving to cut hours for part-time workers continues to grow, as employers look to keep staffers below the 30-hour threshold set by the Affordable Care Act.”
Concerns have also been raised that employers that now offer low-cost insurance plans for part-time workers may instead shift those workers to the state insurance exchanges.
Illinois Tops in Number of Local Governments
According to the U.S. Census of Governments, and as recently reported by USA Today, Illinois has the most local units of government, more than any other state at 6,963. That is more than 7% of all local units of government in the United States and it represents one unit of local government for about every 1,800 Illinois residents.
USA Today was reporting on information gathered by Stateline, a publication of the Pew Center on the States.
Illinois’ nearly 7,000 local units of government will receive more than $1 billion in tax dollars in the current fiscal year from state government alone. That amount doesn’t count the taxes imposed and collected locally.
Lawmakers Encourage Consolidation
The General Assembly took a small but potentially important step this spring to address the issue of government consolidation when it passed and the Governor signed Senate Bill 494.
The new law allows DuPage County to propose, by ordinance, the dissolution and consolidation of its local units of government. It contains a provision providing for voter approval. Senate Bill 494 was a bipartisan effort to ultimately put into the hands of local voters the kind of government that best suits their needs.