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.
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.
"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.
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.
"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.