New federal health insurance rules are inching closer to a January 1st deadline. The requirement that most Americans obtain coverage is feeling very real for the uninsured or those who buy their own policy.
The Tampa Tribune’s Mary Shedden talked to some Tampa Bay residents deciding whether the Affordable Care Act will help their health, or hurt their bottom line.
Bob Linde’s watched the Obamacare debate carefully the past five years.
The St. Petersburg business owner’s concerns are personal. Linde and employees at his alternative medicine center can’t afford health insurance. And at age 50, he wants a safety net.
"I think of myself as a very healthy person and yet there’s that nagging doubt," he says. "What is it that I don’t know? What is it that I don’t see? What happens if I’m driving carefully down the road and a drunk driver comes out of the blue? I can’t do anything. Those things nag at you."
Linde is among the estimated 20 percent of Floridians who don’t have insurance. Starting October 1st, most will be eligible to shop on a federal healthcare exchange - an online marketplace. There they will be able to compare coverage and cost from up to 11 commercial health insurance companies.
Subsidies will be available for some low and middle income people. And anyone with pre-existing health conditions will be able to find plans that previously had been priced out of reach, or denied to them.
That includes Linde. Chronic pre-existing conditions and a lack of insurance led Linde to oriental medicine, his current vocation. He loves how acupuncture and herbal therapies heal him and others. But it’s not comprehensive health coverage.
"Health is a scary, scary enterprise," he says. "So I’ll sleep better, you know, when there’s a safety net not just for me, but for the people I work with because they are vital cogs in my business as well. So I’m looking forward to the changes."
Taylor Dame is less enthusiastic. The manager of a restaurant in Tampa’s Westshore Mall is 23, healthy and trying to build a nest egg with his wife of five months.
"When I get sick, maybe once a year basically. I’ll get a cold and I’ll rest it off and I’ll be fine," Dame says. "The question right now is trying to figure out is if it’s worth it to spend our savings money monthly to have insurance or just pay the little fee at the end of the year."
Dame has worked his way up the ranks of the Little Greek restaurant chain, and he knows the small franchise can’t offer him a health plan right now. But Dame is still responsible for getting insurance come January 1st.
He says he wants to buy insurance. But it may be easier on his wallet to pay the penalty. For Dame that amounts to about $250, a fraction of what insurance may cost.
"If we have to spend our savings every month on health insurance, it doesn’t feel like a benefit of having health insurance," he says. "It feels more like it’s a burden on us that would put us even farther behind on our bills."
Little Greek falls into the new law’s small business category. Companies with fewer than 50 fulltime workers don’t have to offer insurance. Larger businesses do, or they will face fines, starting in 2015.
Angie Short also runs a small business and is relieved that not all the new rules will apply to her South Tampa staffing company. She’s talked to other business owners who feel the same.
"I think the frustration I hear in a lot of cases is they still don’t really understand the impact," says Short. "I have so many companies that I talk to that tell me, you know what, we’re not doing anything yet. We’re waiting to see what’s going to happen."
Still, Short says is going to offer insurance to her 10 full time employees. She says it will help her stay competitive.
"I’m not a politician, I don’t make a lot of those decisions but I know ultimately they are going to affect me somehow," she says. "So to me, it’s better to be prepared and start planning now, than to wait for it to impact me over time."
That choice could be expensive proposition. But she says she’s trying to think long term.
--To see more about how the upcoming changes affect local residents and businesses, visit the Tampa Tribune’s special report – Your Health. Your Care – at TBO.com. You can also visit WUSF's Health News Florida web site.