Sept. 29--Demetrick Brown shells out $120 a month for emergency insurance, the best he can do on the $16,500 a year he cobbles together by juggling a pair of low-skill jobs in fast food and a movie theater.
His Blue Cross and Blue Shield catastrophic policy doesn't cover a single test or procedure until Brown first pays a $5,000 deductible on his medical bills. Brown, 36, is in no financial position to spend that kind of money on doctor visits and routine exams while chipping away at his $4,000 credit card bill and his $3,000 emergency loan for dental surgery.
On Tuesday, Brown, who lives in Cary, will be among more than 1 million North Carolinians who will find out how they will fare under the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy and a political lightning rod for critics.
Details of subsidized insurance in North Carolina will become available for the first time, ending months of speculation about who will come out ahead and who will take a hit financially.
Tuesday marks the beginning of open enrollment for subsidized insurance, a six-month period to shop for the new policies, which were designed to meet the requirements of the health law. The first deadline is not until Dec. 15 for those who want new policies to be effective Jan. 1, and enrollment runs through March 31.
Like many of the uninsured and underinsured, Brown knows next to nothing about the new health care law. But like many, he's plenty nervous about what it might mean for him.
For one thing, Brown may not qualify for the lowest-cost "catastrophic" policy under the Affordable Care Act, a far-reaching law that regulates which services insurers must provide, penalizes hospitals for wasteful practices and requires doctors to use electronic medical records.
"I'm just hoping that, like, I don't have to pay twice as much," Brown said last week during a visit to the storefront in Morrisville that Blue Cross opened recently to sign up new customers. "Right now, I gotta pay this credit card off. That's what's getting to me."
Unlike some states that have embraced subsidized insurance, North Carolina officials elected not to participate in promoting the health law. As a result, the marketing task here will fall to social workers, paralegals, nurses, intake coordinators and volunteers at nonprofit organizations who will help enroll the public.
Marketing the policies
Scores of social service groups and county health agencies have been preparing to start educating the public about the nation's biggest health care policy change since Medicare. The complex new law not only provides federal insurance subsidies up to certain income levels, but also carries penalties for those who don't buy insurance.
UNC Health Care, which owns Rex Hospital in Raleigh, plans to hold a public forum on Thursday at Rex Hospital with representatives of Legal Aid of North Carolina; public sessions are also scheduled in Chapel Hill and Siler City the following week.
Two insurers will sell subsidized policies in this state, Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas and Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The public can also consult with independent insurance agents.
Blue Cross, the state's dominant insurer, is aggressively recruiting new customers and opening two shopping center kiosks, including one at Northgate Mall in Durham. Blue Cross is also establishing seven storefronts across the state, including the sales center in Morrisville, where Brown dropped by last week for a status update on subsidized insurance.
The Morrisville store is decorated with posters of young adults engaging in risky activities that subliminally beg for an insurance underwriter: an athlete bicycling along a narrow country road, a carefree woman walking the balance beam on a wooden fence, a laughing girlfriend perched atop her beau's shoulders.
Might not hurt to wait