COUNCIL BLUFFS — A chance to comment on individual health insurance drew some Iowans with strong opinions about costs and coverage, from a woman who doesn’t want to be forced to buy insurance to a doctor who favors Medicare for all.
“We’re tapped out. Can’t do it anymore,” said one Council Bluffs resident, estimating his family’s insurance premiums at $30,000 a year, plus $7,000 in deductibles. “It doesn’t work.”
About 20 people attended a public hearing at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Wednesday night, hosted by Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen, who is seeking federal approval to waive parts of the Affordable Care Act for 2018.
“Not that Congress is listening to me, but we need the rules to be reset,” Ommen said. His department hopes to implement the “stopgap measure” and start open enrollment on Nov. 1.
If approved, Wellmark, Iowa’s Blue Cross affiliate, would resume selling individual health plans. Medica Health has committed to selling the coverage under the ACA and also would take part in the stopgap measure, if approved.
Ommen said the measure could help prevent big premium increases by encouraging more young people to buy insurance and healthy people to remain insured so their premiums would cover the health care costs of sicker people.
The stopgap measure would guarantee coverage and include the ACA’s “essential health benefits.” Consumers would buy a standard health plan with available subsidies directly from insurance companies instead of through the ACA exchange.
The plan also would set up a reinsurance program for large health claims so that more companies would be willing to sell health plans in the state.
Dr. Glenn Hurst, a family practice physician from Minden, Iowa, said the state should require insurance companies to offer individual policies if they sell group insurance in the state.
Hurst said the stopgap measure sounds like it would let insurance companies make money without taking risks and charge people more than they would pay for health care if they were uninsured.
Hurst said he would prefer a government-paid system like Medicare, which is for people under 65.
One woman said she doesn’t see why people should be required to buy insurance.
“I can get it where I work, but I choose not to have it,” she said. “I take care of myself.”
Bluffs attorney Marti Nerenstone said government officials need to “think outside the box” to solve the problems with insurance and health care and that insurance companies are simply trying to make more money for their shareholders.
Ommen said for-profit insurer Aetna Health will stop selling individual ACA plans in Iowa next year and has said it probably wouldn’t take part in the stopgap program.
“It’s the nonprofits and the mutual insurers that have stayed in the game with us here in this part of the country,” he said.
Nebraska has not sought a waiver. So far, Medica is the only insurer committed to selling individual plans in Nebraska next year.
Other public hearings on the Iowa measure will be 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 2 at the Des Moines Central Public Library and Aug. 10 at the Cedar Rapids Public Library.
Comments can be sent to comment.iowa.gov. To see the plan, go to iid.iowa.gov/documents/iowa-stopgap-measure.