Questions loom as open enrollment nears

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Updated: Mon, 30 Sep 2013 10:53:34 CST

Once the marketplace for the Affordable Care Act opens October 1, agents, navigators and consumers will all finally be able to see and sign up for the available plans.  But do those agents expect to see lines out the door Tuesday?

That may not be the case.  October 1 serves as an opening and not a deadline-- with business expected to pick up over the next several weeks.

"We'll probably renew somewhere between 500, 600 individuals here January 1, so we're going to be busy," said Patty Wissing, an ACA certified agent with Ellerbrock-Norris Insurance.

And as the phones continue to ring, insurance agents around Central Nebraska are already busy.

Wissing said she already has 20 health insurance appointments on the book for the week of the opening. Another agent said he made 10 appointments Monday alone.

And to prepare for that influx, agents across the area went through an ACA certification course, so they can work with their clients and the marketplace.

"A lot of people have some concerns about their knowledge in regards to insurance already and then you throw the new reform rules in there and I think they just want to have that extra piece of assurance," said Wissing.

But not all agents chose to take the course. Agent Don South said he's prepared for the reform in other ways and has chosen to keep his hands clean of the marketplace.

"I'm just kind of keeping myself available for those that won't want that because I feel confident enough that for the majority of people that I work with, their premiums are probably not going to be less expensive when they go to the exchange," said Don South, with Don South Insurance in Hastings.

And no matter how agents have prepared, they're still fielding the questions.

"They're asking about the penalties, you know, is it more economical for them to pay the penalty as opposed to actually securing the health insurance?" said Wissing.

Many of the questions revolve around dollars-- as agents and clients anticipate higher premiums.  But what's included in those plans is also a big concern.

"They want to know if they're going to have the coverage that they have now and that's kind of a tough one to ascertain," said South.

Why exactly is that tough? With the marketplace closed, no one has been able to see the plans. But what we do know is Americans will now be mandated to pay for plans including 10 essential health benefits-- which hasn't sat well with some clients.

"They don't need maternity. They don't need prescription drug coverage. So that's frustrating and I can understand that," said Wissing.

The healthcare marketplace at www.healthcare.gov opens when the clock strikes twelve on Tuesday. Open enrollment will continue through March 31, 2014.