Fairbanks Man Frustrated With Obama’s ACA “Fix”

About 9,000 Alaskans are being forced out of their existing health insurance plans next year under the Affordable Care Act. Last week, President Obama announced new rules that may allow some residents to keep their plans for another year. But for Fairbanks knife maker Mark Knapp, that “fix” doesn’t go far enough.

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Mark Knapp recently got a patent for a knife he calls the 1911 Combat Survivor. It looks like a basic hunting knife, but a compartment in the handle holds fire starter, a bow string and a small Leatherman, among other things. Knapp is packing up a small skiff to head to a remote spot on Kodiak Island to field test it.

“We’re going to the woods to hunt and fish and just use this thing in a harsh coastal environment and saltwater spray and I’ll that and see how it performs, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Knapp is a proud small business owner who doesn’t like the idea of getting assistance from anyone. He and his wife pay for health insurance on the individual market. This year, the premium was about $750 a month. But last month, Knapp got a letter from Premera Alaska saying his plan was being discontinued because of the Affordable Care Act.

“We were pretty disappointed.”

Premera suggested Knapp and his wife buy a similar plan for 2014, with a higher deductible that would cost $1,200 a month, a 60% increase. Insurance premiums are going up in Alaska because all plans have to include a set of essential benefits and insurance companies can’t exclude people with preexisting conditions. Because of their income, Knapp and his wife qualify for a subsidy of nearly $700 a month to help pay for the new plan. But Knapp doesn’t like the idea of a government subsidy. He says it sounds like welfare.

“While it may be more affordable to me, it’s not more affordable in the overall picture because someone is picking up the tab for me.”

Knapp hopes Obama’s recent “fix” for people with canceled plans, will allow him to keep the plan he’s on for another year. The state insurance director and Premera Alaska are still figuring out if that is possible. But ultimately Knapp isn’t satisfied with a short term solution from the President:

“All it does is postpone the problem. As I understand, he’s saying no way no how will it ever be extended beyond a year.”

When his plan is discontinued, Knapp says he and his wife have three choices. They can pay the higher premium, which he says they can’t afford; buy a similar plan with a significant subsidy; or go uninsured. He says he’s leaning toward the last option:

“So for the first time in our adult lives we’re probably not going to be insured and if we get sick we’re going to cover it ourselves if we can and we can’t then it’s going have to be amortized over a bunch of hard working Americans.”

But for now, Knapp is focused on his next two weeks in the wilderness. He’s looking forward to hunting deer, digging for clams and living off the land as much as possible.









Annie Feidt is the broadcast managing editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at afeidt@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Annie here

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