Obamacare: Is it helping or hindering?

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HUDSONVILLE, Mich-- Six years ago the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as Obamacare, was signed into law.

The idea was to expand and improve healthcare across the nation, but millions of Americans say it's not working.

The act went into effect January of 2014. That's when the government started requiring everyone have an ACA-compliant plan, but trying to adhere to that law has cost some people, including many right here in West Michigan, hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.


Healthcare.gov website

You can purchase a plan either on the market place through the federal portal, www.healthcare.gov, or off marketplace with an agent, insurance company or online. According to the Health Insurance Marketplaces 2016 open enrollment period January Enrollment Report, more than 11.6 million Americans have already signed up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Private insurance provider Greg Westcott says he's often the harbinger of bad news in most cases. Time after time, he finds himself telling most of his clients their premiums and deductible will likely rise.

Greg Westcott, private insurance provider

"If you ask my client base in West Michigan, if it’s helping them, a vast majority would say, 'it’s not'," Westcott said. "That’s really the tragedy of it. These are people that work hard. They pay their insurance premiums. They do the best they can. They fund health savings accounts. Now, they got back-doored to the point where their premiums are 2.5, 3.5, 4 times, (as much.)"

One of Westcott's clients, Warren Friesen, a sales representative from Hudsonville, says Obamacare isn't helping him at all.

"It’s on the back on a lot of folks like myself, middle class people who are trying to work hard make an honest living, take care of their family, and I feel like we’re getting penalized," Friesen said.

Warren Friesen

He says Obamacare has not only made his insurance more complicated, but he says it's also more expensive. He switched his coverage in 2015 and his premiums jumped 250 percent for a healthy family of four. According to Friesen, he's not even touching his benefits and paying nearly $1,200 a month.

Friesen's monthly bill

"I knew it was going to raise costs because it was going to mandate these coverages we didn’t have before," Friesen said. "Folks like myself, working hard and trying to have the health care coverage that is adequate for a family of four, we knew it was coming and it sure did."

Westcott expects insurance premiums to rise again next year.

"From an actual real standpoint, there’s no way you can raise premiums fast enough to recoup all of those people that weren’t paying claims that don’t have insurance, or paying medical bills who don’t have insurance," Westcott said.

However, he admits Obamacare is helping those who were ineligible for insurance prior to the switch, because insurance companies are no longer allowed to deny coverage due to a person's health.

"There are some people who haven’t bought health insurance in the past because they would not qualify for it. It was a medically underwritten market and that’s probably what we heard most, coming out of Washington and our state capitol, is that the individual health insurance market is unfair," Westcott said.

Now, there's only four criteria for being approved for a plan now: whether you're a smoker, or non-smoker, where you live, household makeup and age.

However, Westcott says those who were previously uninsured aren't the ones getting hit by heavy costs.

"People that get hammered on this thing are people that are always going to buy, and that’s my client and that’s tragic," Westcott said.

"I certainly understand people who need coverage, who can’t afford it and need to have some basic health care coverage. I understand that, but the current program, the way it was rolled out and implemented, I believe on the backs of middle class folks like myself. I think there is a better way," Friesen said.

The fee for not purchasing insurance is calculated two different ways. You either pay 2.5 percent of your household income, or $696 dollars per adult and $347.50 for children under 18. You pay whichever is higher. That will continue to go up until it caps in 2018, according to Westcott.

"We’re so deep into it now, even though its only three years, we're so deep into it, I think it would be hard to back it out completely with a stroke of a pen," Westcott said.

Westcott says there is a way you can avoid signing up for Obamacare and dodge those tax penalties.

Faith-based groups are now pooling money to help members pay for health care costs. Consumers pay a set monthly amount that goes into a general account or directly to others with medical bills. Access to faith-based plans are based on an application that is based on your faith, asking questions like what do you do on Sundays? Do you go to church? Do you drink?

Westcott also mentioned signing up for short-term health insurance, but did add that you would still have to pay the penalty for not having an ACA-compliant plan.

For more information on the Affordable Care Act, visit healthcare.gov.

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  • Regina

    There are a lot of critical problems with the health care not everyone knows about that was hidden from you. For example you get laid off and your employer is kind enough to offer Cobra at a reduced rate. You jump on that and hope to find a job fast or get called back. Here is the problem with that is …..that doesn’t happen and eventually the Cobra will start to cost normal rate which is more than your unemployment will cover along with basic necessities. Well you are out of luck because once you have Cobra and paid for it you can not jump to Marketplace until open enrollment. And should you try for Marketplace right away in hopes of getting a cheap plan. Well when you input your wages for unemployment you then are not qualified since it is too low you are now able to get medicaid. Medicaid is very slow moving and if you have kids with doctors ect. Medicaid will back pay for stuff but then you have to list everything you own and bank accounts ect. But sorry I should not be penalized for having savings and that I chose to live frugal in case something happens. So should you have more than one car and savings do not opt for medicaid paying bills prior to you actually getting approved for medicaid. If you find a job quickly it is a pain to go through all that when I would have just gone without for a few months but couldn’t due to they want to penalize me for every month you don’t have insurance.

  • Kevin Rahe

    There are a couple of things the ACA did that were good, but the problem is that it was never designed to address the underlying problem of the health care crisis, which is the high and ever-rising cost of actual health care services. My family’s premiums have doubled since the ACA started kicking in, and we’re on a grandfathered plan that is not ACA-compliant. If we had gone on an ACA plan our premiums would have tripled or quadrupled. Major insurance companies like United Healthcare are pulling out of the insurance marketplace because they’re losing too much money.
    I don’t completely agree that the ACA isn’t doing what it was intended to do, though. The problem is that the things it was intended to do weren’t the things that needed to be done. It sought to treat the symptoms without addressing the disease.

  • Commonsense

    Obummer Care is nothing but a political joke that once again proves that government involvement is the last thing that should be sticking its nose into healthcare. Guess what, it’s unaffordable and if you are unemployed and can’t afford it, it is less expensive to not pay for it and in the end take the penalty for being uninsured. If you are a homeowner, hmmm, would I pay for my house or health insurance if having to make that choice? Also, once enrolled in the program, your personal information is in the system allowing for insurance companys to constantly harass you trying to get your business and money. National healthcare is a joke in this country.

  • Dirk VanAtter

    Once again the intellectual desert which is Fox17 has posed a question that can not possibly be answered. Is it helping or hindering? It is helping some people and entities, and it is hindering others. That is obvious, and could be said about virtually any government program in history. It is a stupid question. Asking WHO is it helping and WHO is it hindering would be better, but that is already known by most people as it has been getting reported on since the day it was signed into law. The real questions that need answering are WHY is it helping those who don’t need help, and WHY is it hindering those who do need help. Kevin Rahe’s comment at least alludes to some of those answers, because I think he understands what Fox17 was trying to accomplish with this article, but for me there is only one question that has any importance whatsoever regarding the ACA: What will happen when the ACA goes bankrupt? Because at this point, from a purely financial perspective, that is going to happen before they can replace it with anything else. Too many providers are leaving, and that is going to escalate. It is simply not a financially sustainable system because they never addressed the issue of health care costs. When it does collapse, we will be right back to people having no insurance, but we will still have a law on the books which charges them an ever increasing penalty for not having it.