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Longtime health professional: ‘I’m finding this challenging’

Even longtime health care professional Mari Thornburg, who supports universal medical coverage, struggled to find her best option under the new law.

The former CEO of the Presbyterian Physician Group has been self-employed and self-insured for six years, since starting Posada Consulting, which advises medical schools.

“It’s grown nicely. I have great clients and great contractors. You know, I'm thinking, ‘Isn't this the dream?’” Thornburg said.

Then Thornburg found out her old coverage with Aetna through the AARP – a $790-per-month high-deductible plan that also covered her husband – was going away.

The comparable plan meeting the standards of the Affordable Care Act was $1,186 per month. And though Thornburg could afford the higher premium, she decided to shop around, to see if there was a more affordable option. She knew she wouldn’t be eligible for a federal subsidy because of her income.

In doing so, however, she found clear-cut tutorials for navigating the system were in short supply. As a self-employed business owner with no employees, what were her options?

She looked at healthcare.gov and didn’t find what she needed. She searched on some of the carriers’ websites without much luck. It wasn’t until she called the state’s insurance commissioner that she found she had more options than she thought.

North Carolina small businesses looking for a group plan on the SHOP exchange have one option, Blue Cross. Individuals shopping on the exchange have two options, Blue Cross and Coventry. But small-business owners looking for independent medical coverage can choose from any of the nine carriers in the state.

“I was like, ‘You’re kidding. No one has told me that,’ ” Thornburg said. “I’ve spent my whole career in this industry. … I’ve run physicians groups for decades. I’m very familiar with this and … yet I'm finding this challenging and very time-consuming.

“I am still in favor of universal coverage, and I always will be,” Thornburg said. “But the path we are on seems doomed to fail.” Caroline McMillan Portillo

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