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Missouri health exchange opens for business

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 | 7:28 a.m. CDT; updated 7:09 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 1, 2013

ST. LOUIS — The wait is over for Missourians hoping to find out whether the Affordable Care Act lives up to its name when it comes to shopping for government-backed health insurance.

The online insurance exchange in Missouri is being operated by the federal government after state lawmakers and then voters rejected a state-run system. Unlike in many other states, few details about the plans' premium costs, deductible levels and other specifics were disclosed in advance of Tuesday's kickoff.

The delay made for some frantic preparations by the "certified application counselors" who will help consumers maneuver through the process, as well as the government-approved "navigators" who are authorized to guide prospective applicants through their choices from among private insurers.

Wendy Schrader, an outreach and enrollment specialist at Crider Health Center in Wentzville, said Monday that she planned to stay up late for the first available glance at plan specifics before she meets with clients later in that day. The community health center serves residents of Franklin, Lincoln, St. Charles and Warren counties.

"I'll be on there at midnight tonight," she said.

Consumers have until March to enroll, or by Dec. 15 if they want coverage starting Jan. 1. The online marketplaces are for those who don't receive employer-sponsored health coverage or certain residents eligible for workplace plans but looking for better deals.

The online benefits calculator also will provide Missourians a glimpse into the amount of government subsidies they can expect to receive to offset actual out-of-pocket policy costs. But those subsidies won't be available to adults below the poverty level because the law assumes those people would get coverage under Medicaid expansion. Missouri is among 26 states that have not expanded coverage under the federal insurance program for poor, another key part of the contentious federal law.

Missouri had about 835,000 uninsured people in 2010 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Beneath the state's largely hands-off approach to the health insurance exchange, an undercurrent of more forceful opposition to President Barack Obama's signature policy measure remains. Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is encouraging "active resistance" to the program, urging people last week to register their objections by not signing up for coverage.

In advance of Monday's roll out, state health care advocates warned consumers to be patient and expect some possible technical glitches early on. Program details can be found online at www.healthcare.gov.


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