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Professor Mark Hall tells Charlotte Observer lack of state commitment is a turnoff to insurers under new federal health care law

RALEIGH — Chaney Stokes, who juggles two part-time jobs, can tell you about the hassles of being uninsured.

Rather than getting regular checkups and seeing a doctor, the 27-year-old visits the hospital several times a year. She has a chronic skin condition – causing inflammation and debilitating pain – that can keep her from going to work or doing much else for two or three days at a time.

“It’s beyond painful,” said Stokes, who lives in Raleigh. “There’s no cure for it.”

She requires medical treatment and owes hospitals more than $10,000 in overdue bills.

Neither of Chaney’s jobs comes with health insurance, and she can’t afford to buy her own policy.

“I definitely don’t have my regular checkups like I’m supposed to,” Stokes said. “I was not able to keep up the proper care, so my condition keeps coming back.”

Life is about to change for Stokes and legions like her, under the new federal health care law, which will begin signing people up in October.

A massive population shift to subsidized insurance coverage – likely to exceed 1 million people in North Carolina – is underway as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The transformation is expected to be the biggest shake-up in the nation’s medical landscape since Medicare was introduced in 1965.

As the federal government and some states work to get the program up and running, it is becoming evident that North Carolinians will have limited options – at least in the first year of the program.

Out of more than a dozen insurers that now sell individual policies in the state, only three have applied to offer subsidized policies through the new federally run health insurance exchange. Only one of them, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, the state’s biggest insurance company, operates in all 100 counties.

Meanwhile, three of the nation’s biggest insurers – Aetna, UnitedHealthcare and Cigna – are sitting out of the program in North Carolina, at least for the first year.

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