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Health & Wellness

Affordable Care Act: Health insurance exchange opens

WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

The much anticipated Affordable Care Act begins Tuesday, October 1 with New York Health Insurance Exchange opening up to the uninsured and consumers who don't get health care at work. WBFO's Eileen Buckley talked with two local health care insurance providers about how it all works.

"Uninsured people can choose a plan for them, and based on their income, they can be eligible for a federal subsidy to help them purchase coverage," said Don Ingalls, vice president of state and federal relations at BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York. 

The new regulations should mean affordable health care coverage is now in reach for the millions of Americans who are without it

"We know that most people who don't have insurance don't have it because of the cost, and one of the key elements of the health reform law was to make federal subsidies available to help lower and middle income people purchase coverage," said Ingalls.

For citizens who currently receive health care at most large companies, it should be business as usual. However, for small employers -- those with under 50-employees -- there are new options. 

Nora McGuire is chief marking officer at Independent Health.  She outlines what they can expect.

"They can continue to offer the coverage that their doing today, directly through their insurer or working through their broker, through their local insurer, or they can work with a private exchange, which there has been new coverage available through private exchange," said McGuire. "They can also drop coverage competently.  So a small employer can say to their employees they will drop coverage completely."

McGuire emphasized they expect no change for the larger employers.  

WBFO News asked both McGuire and Ingalls about the myths that have surfaced in the fight for the Affordable Care Act.

"I think the biggest myth is that cost will go down in general," said McGuire. "It is only a small amount of people that will see a decrease in cost. There are new taxes and fees that have to be paid to the state and federal government, so there will be increased costs that will be assessed."

"I think there is a number of myths and confusion, because I don't think the political debates has helped in that regard. Most people won't to have to change," said Ingalls. "If they have their coverage through work they will continue to do that as long as the employer continues to offer coverage."

As for the penalty for dropping coverage by employers, that was delayed for a year and is now slated to go into effect in 2015.

But for those navigating through the new New York State exchange, it could be a bit difficult online. The organization is already apologizing for trouble with accessing areas of the site. A Twitter alert said that the call center is "experiencing high volume" Tuesday morning and was "sorry for the inconvenience."  But a support line is also available for state residents at 1-855-355-5777.