HHS Regional Director: NJ Health Premiums Up, But Not as Much as Skeptics Expected

January 16, 2015 | Health Care

The agency overseeing Obamacare has a job opening. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services Chief Marylin Tavener is stepping down. She oversaw the bumpy rollout of Obamacare last year. But also the far-smoother enrollment period this year, for which she drew praise even from top Republicans. Since the window for open enrollment opened, 25 percent more New Jersey residents have signed up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act than last year. The Health Department says that means 202,000 fewer people are uninsured, fewer have medical debt, fewer delayed medical care. But premiums have risen in New Jersey to more than $5,000 a year for an individual and more than $17,000 for a family. Regional Director of Health and Human Services Jackie Cornell-Bechelli told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that New Jersey’s health premiums have risen slightly but not as much as skeptics expected.

“Well I think our premiums have risen slightly, however we’re pleased to see that they are not rising by some of the numbers that skeptics had said that they would,” said Cornell-Bechelli. “So by and large, many New Jerseyans and Americans are still finding the coverage to be fairly affordable and we’re pleased to see that of its current open enrollment period. Close to 80 percent of New Jerseyans received financial support to help pay for those premiums.”

Cornell-Bechelli said that the cost of living in New Jersey is higher than other states and that it trickles down to the cost of health care.

ADP released a report that said that half of large companies say they are not prepared to comply with certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Cornell-Bechelli said that HHS is working closely in New Jersey and throughout the country to make sure that they are reaching out to businesses to help walk them through the requirements. She also said that there is more confusion about the Affordable Care Act instead of a desire not to comply.

“The way that we can break down that confusion is by having dialog and communicating with businesses about what they can do and how they can be in compliance,” said Cornell-Bechelli.

In this period of open enrollment, HHS has been reaching out to Latinos to encourage them to sign up for health coverage. Cornell-Bechelli said that HHS found the Latino population has fewer people covered by health insurance. She said that in New Jersey, HHS has been focusing in a variety of ways to reach out to the community. She also said that it’s all a matter of connecting to the Latino community and that HHS is working hard in both the call centers and in-person assistance to make sure there is Spanish language support.

Cornell-Bechelli said that open enrollment is available until Saturday, Feb. 15. If people miss that deadline, she said they will have to wait until October to sign up unless they have a life event that gives them a special exception.

A tax penalty will also be imposed for those that miss the Feb. 15 deadline.

“So this year, there is a tax penalty and that for some folks will be a motivating factor,” said Cornell-Bechelli. “What we see by and large though is that human nature is driven by deadlines so we know that we’re going to see waves of people wake up on Feb. 1 and say, ‘Oh my goodness I only have two weeks left, let me take care of this.’ That was what we experienced last year with the last open enrollment period earlier this spring with the open enrollment period for ’15, and what we’re probably going to experience again this early February.”