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Health insurance exchanges set to launch Tuesday; states vary in readiness

By Emery P. Dalesio

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Sept. 29 2013 11:45 a.m. MDT

Asa Gregory, 36, of Wilson, works sporadically as a substitute public school teacher and has lacked health insurance for seven years, paying the medical bills after a traffic accident with help from his parents.

"I would like to have health insurance. I think that's a no-brainer," he said.

Gregory said he's been checking out the government's information web site at www.healthcare.gov but feels "there's certainly quite a bit for me to learn."

"I'd say, percentagewise, what do I know about what's happening on October 1st? I'd say maybe 40 percent," he said. "I'm not confident that I know a majority of the information, but it's gathering, and I'm looking at it. I'm preparing for the opportunity of the marketplace."

Sherry Graham, 72, said she's hoping insurance company competition will drive down the price she pays for her daughter's individual coverage. Graham said rising premiums force her to squeeze her pension and Social Security checks to pay her daughter's $420 monthly insurance premium because the younger woman works only part-time.

"Every year here I am trying to find another $100 or so to add to the monthly premium to keep her insured," said Graham, of Raleigh. "It's enough to hurt. I have to figure out where to get that money from because I'm not getting a raise, like ever."

In response to confusion over the health overhaul, officials in the Carolinas have grudgingly made moves to lessen disruptions.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory's health agency recently urged county social services departments to discuss the insurance exchanges when people come in seeking food stamps or child care help. The Republican governor's administration also encouraged social services agencies to offer space as available to navigators.

In South Carolina, which also left advertising and running the exchange to the federal government, the state Medicaid agency ramped up its call center to handle 50 percent more calls as people have questions about the law, deputy director John Supra said.

Others are taking a harder line.

Florida Republicans are vehemently pushing back against implementing parts of the law. The Florida Department of Health recently ordered county health departments across the state to ban navigators from conducting outreach on their property. Florida has one of the highest uninsured rates in the country with an estimated 3.5 million lacking insurance.

Gov. Rick Scott, a vocal opponent of the law, has echoed GOP talking points about privacy concerns, penning a letter last week to top congressional leaders expressing concern about the security of people's personal information as they sign up for health coverage under. Scott's strong opposition has drawn sharp criticism from Democrats.

"It seems that Gov. Scott and his staff spend their days conjuring up new ways to keep Floridians in the dark about health care choices coming Oct 1," U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch said at a recent meeting with a handful of navigators.

In Kansas, a 2011 law Republican legislators and Gov. Sam Brownback enacted declared that residents can't be forced to buy health insurance or penalized. The measure was largely a symbolic protest, given supremacy of the federal law.

Missouri bars state employees from helping implement an insurance exchange, leaving it entirely to federal direction. Last week, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder this week urged Missouri residents to resist the federal law by refusing to sign up for health insurance. They could be forced to pay a fine of $95 or more if they don't.

"I don't see any reason to enable the implementation of this law," Kinder said. "I think the whole thing is in the process of collapsing."

Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy in Miami; John Milburn in Topeka, Kan.; Seanna Adcox in Columbia, S.C.; and Scott Bauer in Madison, Wis., contributed to this report.

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