OMAHA — Nebraskans have been slow to sign up for health insurance on the new online marketplaces, even as a new report estimates that 239,000 in the state are potential customers and more than half those are eligible for tax credits that would help cover the cost of the insurance.
A report last week by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates 122,000 Nebraskans are eligible for the tax credits. To receive the subsidies, which vary with income, people must earn between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level — or between $23,550 and $94,200 annually for a family of four.
Preliminary data indicate about 500 Nebraskans have enrolled, said Roger Furrer, executive director of Community Action of Nebraska, a nonprofit that is helping enroll residents. The data also show information about sign-up has been provided to about 4,900 though in-person visits, phone contacts and community events, he said.
Nebraska is one of 36 states where the federal government is running the online health care exchange. That federal website has faced technical problems since the Oct. 1 rollout. The Kaiser report noted that the actual takeup of credits may vary by state based on how well the exchange is working.
"Sign-up has been slowed by technical issues and system crashes," Furrer acknowledged. "Overall, the difficulties with the website and the storm of 'I told you so' speeches have done more to disincentivize enrollment than any campaign opposed to the ACA could have."
"This is not where we expected to be at this point, but the message from Washington has been consistent: Have patience, and give us some time to work the bugs out of the system," he said.
The Kaiser Family Foundation report says about 17 million people nationally will be eligible for tax credits to purchase insurance on the exchanges, out of about 29 million who may use the exchanges to purchase plans. The states with the highest number of eligible residents are California, Texas and Florida.
Furrer noted that Nebraska officials have not opted to seek a federal waiver to implement a low-income health care plan using federal Medicaid expansion dollars. That expansion would cover people with incomes up to 138 percent of poverty who don't qualify for Medicaid.
Without the expansion, according to another report last month by the foundation, more than 32,500 Nebraska residents are estimated to fall into a health insurance "coverage gap," where incomes are too high to qualify for the current Medicaid program but too low to receive premium subsidies.