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Arizona Democrats tout Obamacare benefits, despite rollout problems

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WASHINGTON – Despite the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act, Arizona Democrats touted the law’s “many, many positive aspects” and showcased one woman Monday who successfully got health insurance through

Tucson retiree Sandy McNabb said on a conference call hosted by state Democrats that the longest part of the process was choosing her plan from among 100 options she was presented with.

“If I was willing to stay with my current premium level and the reduced deductible it would have been quite easy, I would have just pressed the enroll button,” she said. “But I was excited to have all these choices.”

But a spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party scoffed at the Democrats’ claims, saying the law has actually been a “total disaster” that denies many in the state their plans of choice.

“There aren’t a lot of happy people out there because of Obamacare,” said Tim Sifert, the state GOP spokesman. “Apparently the (Democrats) can find one.”

The back-and-forth came as a new survey showed that Americans remain divided on President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, and that their opinions have changed little since the law passed in 2010.

The Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll, published Friday, showed 38 percent of Americans liked the law, compared to 44 percent who viewed it unfavorably.

Though 64 percent of those polled by Kaiser reported having no experience with Obamacare, and 23 percent reported negative experiences, Sifert still called it a “monster” and said Americans are “very unhappy” with it.

But state Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who joined McNabb and state Sen. Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson, on the conference call, accused Republicans of attacking the health care law “simply because they don’t like the president.”

Tovar said she had to “struggle and fight” for coverage after she was treated for cancer 11 years ago, but said the new law offers “peace of mind” for people with pre-existing conditions.

“Thankfully, today with the affordable healthcare act, many patients will not have to go through” what she went through, Tovar said.

McNabb was one of those people. Limited to costly insurance because she had been prescribed blood pressure medications, McNabb said she was able to find coverage under the new law that she likes better. It will cost her $500 in monthly premiums, compared to the $357 a month she pays now, but she will have better coverage and a deductible of $1,500 – down from $7,500 now.

“My total out-of-pocket expenses are limited to $4,000 as opposed to $10,500 with my current policy,” she said. “If I compare my new policy to my old policy, I’m actually saving potentially about 30 percent … so I am just beaming.”

McNabb admitted the online marketplace was still “kludgy” when she signed on, but that she just sat watching television and waiting patiently for each page to load.

How many Arizonans have been able to register or enroll through the online marketplace is unclear. Some insurers said they are seeing enrollments online in “painfully small numbers,” and others say it’s too early to release enrollment numbers.

One of those offering coverage on the federal exchange, Meritus Health Partners, has had 12 people enroll, said CEO Kathleen Oestreich. Many others are interested, she said, but because they are eligible for federal subsidies they cannot enroll until the website begins working properly.

“The good news is we’re getting files with accurate data,” Oestreich said. “It tells us the system works from end to end, it’s just slow.”

Oestreich said she worries that if the site takes too long to be fixed, people will lose patience and won’t sign up. Interest has already fallen off a little since early October, she said.

But Oestreich also said she did not expect an “avalanche” of enrollments in October because customers would still be mulling their options.

“There’s a tremendous amount of competition, so for the consumer it’s even a lot more work because they have a lot more choices and a lot more comparing to do,” Oestreich said.

But Sifert said the health care law actually limits choice.

“The options have been taken away by the Obama administration,” he said. “All those people that liked their plan and now they can’t have it, that’s been taken away from them.”