Little choice among companies in Alabama marketplace

MGN Online

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Alabamians who are able to get into the new health insurance marketplace website are finding they don’t have much choice among companies.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, the state’s largest health insurance provider, is the only company offering individual plans in every county. In most counties, its plans are the exchange’s only options. It is offering plans at every level – bronze, silver, gold and platinum – in every county, spokeswoman Koko Mackin said.

Humana is offering individual plans in Jefferson, Madison and Shelby counties. Humana spokesman Mitch Lubitz said, “It’s based on where we have a business presence and the provider network.”

United Healthcare spokesman Ben Goldstein said the company decided not to participate in the individual marketplace at this time. “We continue to evaluate the exchange and see 2014 as just the beginning,” he said.

One the small business side of the marketplace, Blue Cross and United Healthcare are offering plans in every county. Humana is not participating in the small business marketplace in any state at this time, Lubitz said.

Blue Cross has traditionally dominated the health insurance business in Alabama. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which developed Alabama’s marketplace, said Alabama has the least choices of any of the 36 states with federally facilitated marketplaces.

Dr. Lea Yerby, an assistant professor in the College of Community Health Sciences at the University of Alabama, said Alabama’s marketplace is a reflection of Blue Cross’ dominance, but that could be a positive because people in Alabama are familiar with the company and doctors’ offices are accustomed to working with Blue Cross.

In a summary of plans released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Blue Cross offered a bronze plan for a 27-year-old in Shelby County for $170.44 a month, while Humana had a similar plan for $184.43 For a Shelby County couple around 30 years old with two children, the family prices were $575.72 for Blue Cross and $622.96 for Humana. Those were before any subsidies for people making below 400 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s $45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four.

The website for the marketplace ( ) debuted Tuesday and was overwhelmed with people trying to get into it. That continued Wednesday, with people repeatedly getting messages to wait.

Yerby encouraged people to be patient about getting into the system because the insurance coverage won’t start until Jan. 1, and people have six months to sign up during the initial enrollment period.

“Right now, I wouldn’t recommend it because of the glitches,” she said. Instead, she suggested people study the marketplace and talk to groups that are being funded by the federal government to help the public understand the new offerings and figure out whether they will qualify for subsidies.

Groups are doing that through health festivals and community gatherings in all parts of the state.

About 50 people showed up Tuesday for a program in Gadsden organized by Quality of Life Health Services. Planning and development officer Amelia Wofford said the health care services organization covers 18 counties from Tuskegee to Fort Payne, and it is holding meetings in churches, libraries and community centers in towns all over its east Alabama service area.

At the gathering in Gadsden, people provided workers with their personal information, and then the workers are getting back with them one-on-one to talk about their options and whether they qualify for subsidies, she said.

While the marketplace is being promoted toward the more than 600,000 Alabamians without insurance, Wofford recommended those with insurance review it, too. “They can go on and shop the plans and maybe get a better deal,” she said.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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