CHICAGO (AP) - For many older Americans who lost jobs during the recession, the quest for health care has been one obstacle after another. They're unwanted by employers, rejected by insurers, struggling to cover rising medical costs and praying to reach Medicare age before a health crisis.
These luckless people, most in their 50s and 60s, have emerged this month as early winners under the nation's new health insurance system. Along with their peers who are self-employed or whose jobs do not offer insurance, they have been signing up for coverage in large numbers, submitting new-patient forms at doctor's offices and filling prescriptions at pharmacies.
"I just cried I was so relieved," said Maureen Grey, a 58-year-old Chicagoan who finally saw a doctor this month after a fall in September left her in constant pain. Laid off twice from full-time jobs in the past five years, she saw her income drop from $60,000 to $17,800 a year. Now doing temp work, she was uninsured for 18 months before she chose a marketplace plan for $68 a month.
Americans ages 55 to 64 make up 31 percent of new enrollees in the new health insurance marketplaces, the largest segment by age group, according to the federal government's latest figures. They represent a glimmer of success for President Barack Obama's beleaguered law.
The Great Recession hit them hard and for some its impact has lingered.
Aging boomers are more likely to be in debt as they enter retirement than were previous generations, with many having purchased more expensive homes with smaller down payments, said economist Olivia Mitchell of University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. One in five has unpaid medical bills and 17 percent are underwater with their home values. Fourteen percent are uninsured.
As of December, 46 percent of older jobseekers were among the long-term unemployed compared with less than 25 percent before the recession.
And those financial setbacks happened just as their health care needs became more acute. Americans in their mid-50s to mid-60s are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than other age groups, younger or older, accounting for 3 in 10 of the adult diabetes diagnoses in the United States each year. And every year after age 50, the rate of cancer diagnosis climbs.
The affordable coverage is "an answer to a prayer really," said Laura Ingle, a 57-year-old Houston attorney who had been denied coverage repeatedly because she has sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disease. She recently had back surgery for a painful condition that's been bothering her for months.
One night in September, 64-year-old Glenn Nishimura woke up with wrenching pain that sent him to the emergency room. It was his gallbladder. A doctor recommended surgery.
Instead, Nishimura went home. A consultant to nonprofit groups, he was self-employed and uninsured.
"I checked myself out because I had no idea what this was going to cost," the Little Rock, Ark., man said. "They didn't want me to go, but they didn't stop me."
Nishimura lost his coverage after leaving a full-time position with benefits in 2007, thinking he could land another good job. The recession ruined that plan. After COBRA coverage expired, he was denied coverage because of high blood pressure and other conditions.
He made it until September without a major illness. A second night of gallbladder pain and a chat with a doctor persuaded him to have the surgery. After getting the bills, he negotiated the fees down to $12,000, which he considered "a big hit, but it could have been worse." The average cost of a gallbladder removal in Arkansas was listed at three times that. Nishimura dipped into his savings to cover the bill.
In December, he chose a bronze plan on the new insurance marketplace that costs him $285 a month after a tax credit. The deductible is $6,300, so he hopes he doesn't have to use his coverage. He can get on Medicare in April, just in time for his annual checkup.
"Now there's the peace of mind of knowing the limits of my obligation if I have catastrophic health needs," he said.
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger said he's noticed a recent increase in patients in this age group at his family practice in Miami. Lots of them have untreated chronic conditions that have progressed to an advanced stage.
"Many have delayed necessary treatments due to costs and expect a total and quick workup on their first visit," he said, adding they want referrals to specialists and tests including colonoscopies and mammograms.
The abundance of older patients signing up is no surprise to the Obama administration, which conducted internal research last year that showed the "sick, active and worried" would be the most responsive to messages urging them to seek coverage.
Signing up younger, healthier enrollees is seen as more difficult, but crucial to keeping future insurance rates from increasing. The administration said those age groups may put off enrolling until closer to the March 31 deadline.
"We have always anticipated that those with more health needs would sign up early on, and that young and healthy people would wait until the end," administration spokeswoman Joanne Peters said.
Some of the aging boomers were determined to get coverage in the marketplace, despite repeated problems and frustration with the federal website.
The hours spent online and over the phone paid off for real estate agent Greg Burke and his beautician wife, Pat. The empty-nesters qualified for a tax credit that will lower their monthly health insurance premiums by nearly half.
The Burkes, from Akron, Ohio, are among the 38 percent of marketplace enrollees in the state between 55 and 64 years old. He's 61 and had a knee replaced six years ago.
They will now spend $250 a month for health insurance, "a huge savings," Greg Burke said. Their deductibles also dropped from $2,500 each to $750 each, meaning they will pay less out of pocket.
In Miami, licensed practical nurse Marie Cadet, who is 54, often works double shifts to make ends meet for herself and her 12-year-old daughter. She had been paying more than $150 a month for health insurance, with a $3,000 deductible. In effect, she paid most medical costs out of her own pocket, including about $80 a month for blood pressure medicine.
After choosing a plan from the marketplace, Cadet's monthly payment dropped to $86 a month, with the government kicking in $300. Her deductible fell to a more affordable $900.
"Now," Cadet said, "I'm not scared anymore."
Associated Press writers Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston, Ann Sanner in Columbus, Ohio, and Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
In 2009, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) apologized profusely to the White House for shouting, "You lie!" as President Barack Obama told Congress that Obamacare would not cover illegal immigrants. Now it would appear that the White House owes Wilson an apology, as Covered California--the flagship of state Obamacare exchanges--is recruiting illegal ("undocumented") immigrants to sign up for the program, regardless of their eligibility.
The Covered California website includes a special page entitled: "No temas si eres indocumentado/a y quieres inscribir a tu familia en un seguro médico" ("Fear not if you are undocumented and want to enroll your family in health insurance"). The website goes on to explain that information shared with Obamacare cannot be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It does not explicitly warn that illegal aliens are ineligible.
His deductible is now 6300 dollars a year.......and you paint that as a GOOD thing. So, he has to pay off his deductible of 6300 a year BEFORE it starts paying! YOU MSN are really reaching in your blind support of OBAMA if you think that is a good deal for the middle class.
Poorly written article, the government doesn't pay anything to lower premiums or deductibles. it's some accountant from Wichita that pays income tax and additional taxes on their health insurance and taxes on their health consumables, etc.
Reporters should report things as they are, there is no 'excess money' that the government has access to, there's no 'profit' that the government receives that pays for these programs, the government takes from someone else and redistributes in order to buy off the weak minded to keep certain parties in power.
"Now doing temp work, she was uninsured for 18 months before she chose a marketplace plan for $68 a month."
Yup. Just $68 a month with a big'ol side of cheese.
The excuses and justifications for this (about to be another failure of liberals) are starting. In the past weeks the liberal liars have been touting what a success this is (after its slow roll out) .
Now the writing is on the wall , the poor (substities) the uninsurable and the elderly (all getting substities) were 90% of those signing up. The elderly are now forced to pay for pregnancy, drug counceling and mental health. The younger are force to pay for coverage they do not need or want, they are also paying twice what they were before Obama hijack medicine.
To make it clear Obama is not interested in "fixing" health care , only controlling it!!
There are no free lunches... If Jose doesnt pay for his own insurance somebody else has to. [us]
The ACA is a ponzi scheme that is going to bankrupt our great nation and its originators should be thrown out of office and jailed. Just like Bernie Maadoff.
Democrats Four Biggest Obamacare Lies
President Obama's famous vow -- "If you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan. Period." -- isn't the only broken promise of ObamaCare.
Now that the Affordable Care Act has actually been in effect for a while, Americans are discovering more pitfalls associated with the massive overhaul.
Lie #1: "Affordable" Care. Even the president's ideological allies -- like Michael Moore -- acknowledge that the Affordable Care Act is far from inexpensive for most Americans and that it "risks being a cruel joke."
For average Americans, the results are prohibitively expensive. "The cheapest plan available to a 60-year-old couple making $65,000 a year in Hartford, Conn., will cost $11,800 in annual premiums," according to Moore's math, as published in a New York Times editorial. "If both become seriously ill, they might have to pay almost $25,000 in a single year."
The National Federation of Independent Businesses, an organization that represents nearly 11,000 entrepreneurs in New York state alone, said it has yet to find a single member whose health-care costs are going down under ObamaCare. Instead, an "overwhelming majority" of businesses have reported increases in their insurance premiums, said Mike Durant, the NFIB's New York director.
Lie #2: It will prevent people from going into debt.
Patients with cancer and conditions such as multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease can now get insurance and financial but if annual out-of-pocket costs run much higher than expected, they might have to go into debt.
"There are certainly challenges for cancer patients," said Brian Rosen, a senior vice president of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. These gaps "need to be addressed in order to fulfill the intention of the Affordable Care Act."
Caroline Pearson, who tracks the health-care overhaul for the consulting firm Avalere Health, put it in even starker terms.
"Chronically ill people are likely to be underinsured and face extremely high out-of-pocket costs," she said. "While the subsidies help, there still may be access problems for some populations."
Lie #3: ObamaCare will lower costs overall.
The idea that people with medical insurance go to the emergency room less, and thus, help to reduce the overall cost of health care, isn't necessarily true, as a study of Oregon Medicaid recipients has shown.
Researchers compared Medicaid recipients with those with no health insurance and found the following: Pthat people with access to Medicaid went to the ER 40 percent more than those without insurance.
Lie #4: More Americans will be insured.
Approximately 2.8 million Americans have signed up for new health-care plans since the Affordable Care Act went into effect on Jan. 1. That's less than the 3.3 million the federal government predicted would sign up, and is also dwarfed by the 4.7 million whose insurance policies have been cancelled as a result of the overhaul.
I hope Marie Cadet is thankful for " the government (see US taxpayer) kicking in $300.00 ". Do you
think this, the kicking in part, is going to happen very often ? Could this create a problem for the
administrators of Obamacare, aka " the affordable care act ". Will most of the people who sign up
need " the government kicking in " ? Lets hope not.
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