The White House says as of October 1st, every state will have a new marketplace where people can sign up for required health insurance. It also says that those who need subsidies to make it affordable will be able to get them there, too.
Setting the whole thing up is ton of work. But Marilyn Tavenner, the federal appointee in charge of the new marketplaces, says they're going to be ready on time.
“I actually had the chance to talk to some of the team about Colorado,” Tavenner said while visiting Denver Tuesday. “They seem to be in good shape.”
Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs is skeptical.
“This is now heading for a train wreck,” he told constituents at a town hall meeting Saturday.
Lamborn says the White House's July announcement, that it's delaying for one year the requirement that big businesses provide health insurance to employees, is proof things are going badly. He says he’s doing everything he can to slow the law down.
“Because one other strategy is to keep delaying it until there's a new person in the White House in 2017 who would hopefully be willing to de-fund and repeal Obamacare,” he said to enthusiastic applause.
The pressure to get the law up and running isn't just on the federal government. Colorado is one of 17 states that took on responsibility to set up its own new marketplace for Affordable Care Act insurance.
State officials involved in that process say it’s a tight deadline, but they're confident they're going to make it.
Marguerite Salazar has been involved in the process since nearly the beginning. Until recently, she worked for the federal agency that’s helping states set up the new marketplaces. She says she often gets the same questions from the public.
“How do we know this is really going to happen? And how to we know it's going to be done right?
“And I would always answer, well, your insurance commission, and the commissioner is going to make sure that everything is done properly, and that the insurance companies are doing what we've asked them to do.”
Fast forward to today, and Marguerite Salazar herself is Colorado's newly appointed insurance commissioner, on the job since Monday. That means it's now up to her to be the state's consumer watchdog on insurance companies, both in the existing marketplace, and the new one that's supposed to open in October. It's her job to make sure that insurance companies charge fair prices, and pay for required services.
Right now, she oversees health policies covering about 2.25 million Coloradans. That job is about to get a lot bigger.
“We're going to have 500,000 new customers,” Salazar says, “just think of how many possibilities there are for things to go wrong there.
“We know it's not going to be just a completely smooth transition as people who have never had insurance buy it and are trying to figure out how to use it. And also the fact that I think insurance companies, who are not used to dealing with people who are previously uninsured are going to also find themselves also having different issues with their customers.”
All the new work doesn't come with much more money or staff. The federal government helped the state pay for reviews of new plans and prices being offered in 2014, but Salazar says there's no new money beyond that.
“But I think that we've got tremendous resources,” she says, “and maybe looking at some different ways of doing things, and using who we've got in different capacity will be a way that we can meet the needs of the future.
No one knows if all 500,000 Coloradans Salazar is expecting will actually sign up for new health coverage next year. The state has launched an aggressive marketing campaign and is now training hundreds of specialists to help people enroll.
[Photo: CPR News]