LINCOLN — Expect some hiccups with the implementation of the federal health care overhaul, a top insurance company official told Lincoln employers Thursday.
But Cameron Arch, corporate counsel for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, urged Nebraskans not to panic about the changes to come.
He predicted the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, will undergo “a lot of scrutiny and a lot of changes” over the next decade to address problems that pop up.
Arch reviewed key pieces of the federal law at a meeting put on by the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce.
He was joined by Russ Gronewold, vice president and chief financial officer for Bryan Health of Lincoln, and Dr. Joann Schaefer, a Blue Cross vice president.
The meeting took place just days before the Oct. 1 start of open enrollment in the new health insurance marketplaces, the centerpieces of the federal law.
The marketplaces, also known as exchanges, are online places where people can comparison shop and buy private health insurance. Subsidies in the form of federal tax credits to offset the cost of premiums are available through the marketplaces to help people afford coverage.
“All it is is a new means to purchase health insurance,” Arch said of the marketplaces, while noting they will not be the only means to buy insurance.
He said many Americans don't understand their new options and obligations under the federal law and a significant number mistakenly believe the law has been repealed or declared unconstitutional.
But he also said that Blue Cross has been fielding a growing number of questions about how big a subsidy people might get under the law.
The answer will be different for each family, Arch said.
The tax credits are not available to families who can get affordable health coverage through an employer or who qualify for Medicaid, Medicare, military coverage or Nebraska Kids Connection, a children's health insurance program.
Other families can get subsidies if their household incomes fall between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
That means an income of between $23,550 and $94,200 for a family of four this year.
Under the law, the federal tax credits will help families pay premium costs that exceed a certain proportion of their income.
Families making 100 percent of the poverty level will not have to pay more than 2 percent of their income for premiums. Families making 400 percent of the level will have premium payments capped at 9.5 percent of their income.
Some small employers also can qualify for tax credits to help them provide insurance, Arch said.
Families and individuals who do not have health coverage next year could face penalties when they file their income taxes in 2015, he said.
The penalties start at $95 per adult or 1 percent of family income, whichever is larger, for not having coverage in 2014. Two years later, the penalties will increase to $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of family income.
The federal law also includes penalties for large employers — those with 50 or more full-time employees — that do not offer affordable health coverage for employees.
However, Arch said, the employer “pay or play” penalties have been delayed for a year.
In the meantime, he said, employers must notify workers about the availability of the new marketplaces. He also said employers cannot force new employees to wait more than 90 days to enroll in workplace insurance plans.