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Four days, three fatal crashes

A Clarksville teen died Friday in Buffalo Junction wreck, the first of three deadly car crashes in Mecklenburg County in the past week.


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Insurance exchange gets off to rocky start / October 03, 2013

With Tuesday’s debut of the new health insurance exchange, local insurance agents were left scratching their heads as they attempted to decipher the details of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, which promises to provide affordable coverage to the millions of Americans who lack insurance.

Local agents have been fielding calls over the past few weeks, but basic information on the rates or the types of coverage offered through the new exchange — located on the Internet at — remains spotty.

Gregory Neal of Neal Insurance Agency in South Boston said he’s been unable to get his questions answered by the insurance companies that are selling coverage on the exchange. So far, said Neal, the only issuer that has provided any information at all is Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“No one is answering phone calls, no one is returning e-mails,” he said.

Neal is sponsoring a public meeting on the Affordable Care Act, set for Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. at The Prizery. He said his office has fielded numerous inquiries in the past few weeks from people who either need health insurance or are concerned by the law’s impact on their existing plans. The ACA mostly applies to the individual insurance market; people who have coverage through their employer or Medicare or Medicaid are little affected.

The law provides tax credits to help lower the cost of insurance purchased on the new market exchange, which takes the form of a web portal. The cost reduction is coupled with a requirement that most people purchase coverage — the part of the ACA known as the individual mandate. With some exceptions, persons without insurance in 2014 will pay a fine; the minimum is $95 and rises with income.

Tax credits are available to individuals making up to $45,960, or $94,200 for a family of four. However, consumers must purchase coverage on the exchange to receive the credits. According to data provided by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, a Virginia family of four with a household income of $50,000 could, with tax credits, buy a mid-range plan for about $280 a month.

Neal said that people need to study their choices to see if the promised coverage is right for them. He noted that Anthem so far has limited its exchange offerings to HMOs, which restrict the choices of doctors and specialists that a patient can see without requiring them to pay extra. He said he has not been able to get any information on the policies that Optima and Aetna will sell on the exchange. Both companies have qualified to sell on the exchange.

Another provider, Piedmont, dropped out of the exchange just this week after indicating it would participate, he added. Neal said the rollout of the exchange has been so rocky that he’s advising people to wait a few weeks before making any decisions about the coverage they may want. “Right now the choices are not there. That’s why I’m telling people to hold off until we hear more from [the insurance companies].”

He added, “There’s a lot of bugs in the system. [People visiting the website] are having problems getting in touch with a lot of the companies. I strongly advise people to get [coverage] from an office where you can walk in and ask if you’re having problems.”

The website set up to handle inquiries on the federal exchange — which is serving Virginia residents in the absence of a state-run exchange — offered little help on the opening day of Obamacare on Tuesday: the site locked up as traffic spiked. Problems were rife again on Wednesday

There is time for the site to work out the bugs. The enrollment period for coverage on the health exchange doesn’t end until March 31, 2014.

For those who spent Tuesday hoping to gain access to the marketplace without success, here’s what to expect once the marketplace is open. You will need to provide details of your family’s income, household size, and job status. You must also acknowledge that you are a legal resident of the United States. The program automatically verifies your responses against databases maintained by the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor and Homeland Security.

If it works as planned, the exchange would then then calculate the premiums and the subsidies you can get from the federal government to defray the cost of medical coverage.

It is then up to you to decide whether you wish to pay a high deductible and low premium, or less out of pocket but higher premium. After that, you can even initiate the process of purchasing a policy online.

As long as you are enrolled by December 15, 2013, your coverage is effective January 1, 2014, the date by which all not exempted, non-insured Americans must have coverage or face a penalty under Obamacare’s individual mandate to carry insurance or pay a fine. The minimum fine in 2014 is $95, rising in subsequent years.

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Hopefully this shutdown will end obummer care

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