CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Of all the things sisters Caitlin Lyon and Michelle Novosel had to consider before they opened their chocolate store in Huntsville, Alabama, healthcare carried particular weight. Caitlin would be giving up a full-time government contracting job with good benefits.
CAITLIN LYON: That was one of the huge considerations in leaving that job, was not only, you know, was I gonna make less money. But suddenly the whole landscape for insurance was changing. I have to have insurance. I have several chronic illnesses that I have to have lab work every couple of months. And I see, like, three different specialists every three to six months.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: As their store, “Pizzelle’s Confections,” opened in 2013, Obamacare became an option. They shopped for a plan on the federal insurance marketplace established as part of the Affordable Care Act.
The sisters were among the 98,000 people in Alabama who signed up. Caitlin opted to enroll with Blue Cross Blue Shield, Michelle with Humana.
MICHELLE NOVOSEL: It was, you know, a little bit of a headache to begin with. But I got a good subsidy. It turned out to be really good at the beginning.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Like 81 percent of Obamacare enrollees nationwide, the cost of their plans was offset by federal government subsides determined by their income.
As recently as last year, Alabama residents enrolled in Obamacare had three providers to choose from – Humana, UnitedHealthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield. But this year only Blue Cross remained, and it already controlled more than 90 percent of Alabama’s private insurance market.
Both UnitedHealthcare and Humana, cited the high costs of individuals enrolled in the marketplace as the reason for their departure.
MICHELLE NOVOSEL: That’s when everyone saw that huge jump in premiums, and that’s when everyone kinda got scared as to are we gonna have health insurance are we not?