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Cornell Cooperative Extension held workshops on New York's health plan Marketplace. It opens next week. Photo: Sarah Harris, NCPR.
Cornell Cooperative Extension held workshops on New York's health plan Marketplace. It opens next week. Photo: Sarah Harris, NCPR.

What does the Affordable Care Act mean for the North Country?

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On October first, a major part of President Obama's major health care law, the Affordable Care Act, will roll out across the country. New Yorkers will be able to shop for health insurance through an exchange called the Marketplace. But for people who hope to sign up for a plan, there may be more questions than answers.

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At Cornell Cooperative Extension in Canton, 35 people sat at rows of folding tables, eager to learn about the types of health insurance they can get through the new program.  

Extension agent Kirk Shoen is going around the region with a power point presentation, trying to explain what New York is calling the Marketplace.

But  people here are loaded with questions. They want to know if they have to provide the same insurance to all their employees. They want to know how many people can be on a family plan, or what happens when their farm's only employee is their 28 year-old son.  

Shoen says he understands. Everywhere he goes, he’s hearing the same thing.

"They want to know what the plans are going to cover, what doctors are going to be in network, but the biggest question we get asked every time is how much is it going to cost me and how much is it going to change."

Around 2.7 million New Yorkers don’t have health insurance.

A study by the Urban Institute estimates that about 1.1 million of them will get insurance through the Marketplace.

As part of rolling out the Marketplace, the government has identified people called navigators. It’s their job to help individuals and businesses sign up – and their services are free.

"We want to have health coverage for all Americans," says Anne Marie Snell a navigator in Saint Lawrence county who works for the Saint Lawrence Health Initiative. 

"Individuals need to buy health insurance or may be subject to fines. The benefit of the affordable care act is that it prohibits denials to individuals due to preexisting conditions. In addition there’s an expansion of Medicaid for individuals. So you’ll see a larger number of New York state residents that are eligible for Medicaid." 

Snell says that, in addition to Medicaid, 3 carriers – Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield, MVP, and Fidelus Care — will provide health insurance to people in St. Lawrence county.

The Department of Health says the average monthly premium payment will be about $328.  

And it says everyone will be able to choose from at least 2 providers.

But at this meeting, some people are skeptical. Dairy farmer Bob Zufall says his income varies from year to year – and he’s not sure what that will mean for insurance coverage.

"Every year’s probably going to be different. One year you’ll be able eligible for subsidies, one year you might be able to get Medicaid if you have a bad year, and the next year you’ll be paying all your premiums yourself."

Doug Parks has his own business and works for Maplewood United Helpers in Canton. He’s is trying to figure out a plan that will work him, his wife, Paula, and their 18 year old daughter. Doug Parks says he thinks the Affordable Care Act a good idea.

"Everybody should have health insurance. You may not think it’s important when you’re young but as the years go on you figure out the health starts failing – the eyes, the teeth, it’s very necessary."

But he says signing up for a plan  seems confusing.

"Very confusing. It’s certainly new. We’re going to have to try it and see what happens."

And dairy farmer Bob Zufell says that while he’ll see what the Marketplace offers, he may not sign up at all.

"I just think there’s going to be too much confusion. We seen what’s going on tonight, people leaving this meeting more confused than when they came."

The Marketplace opens for enrollment next Tuesday and continues through the end of March. 

For people who enroll before December 15, coverage will begin January 1. 

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