Meet the woman who has used (almost) every Obamacare benefit

Louisa McQueeney has taken advantage of just about every Obamacare benefit possible (Photograph provided by Louisa McQueeney)

Louisa McQueeney is a 53-year-old mother living in Southern Florida. She works for a company that ships Florida orange gift baskets across the United States (for an extra $7, they ship to Canada as well).

Over the past two years, McQueeney has taken advantage of just about every Obamacare benefit she can get her hands on.

Free preventive care? She got that with her annual well-care visit. The extension of family coverage for young adults? Her 22-year-old daughter, a recent college graduate, uses that to stay on her plan.

Then there's the small-business tax credit that two-thirds of businesses don't even know about. McQueeney used that to net Palm Beach Groves, the company where she's the general manager, $7,400 in savings. Another health law rebate, for just over $1,500, has brought her haul to $9,000.

"Filing out the paperwork on the tax credit took about 2 or 3 hours, so I guess there was a bit more to do," she says. "But those are things you do as a business. I have to spend more time on forms from the Florida Department of Citrus."

McQueeney's experience is in stark contrast to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, an adamant opponent of the law. He has said his state will refuse to build a health insurance exchange, nor will it participate in the Medicaid expansion.

The contrast speaks to an important truth about the health-care law: Governors can only do so much to stand in the way. Many benefits — the end of pre-existing conditions, limits on premium increases and subsidies to buy coverage — will take effect in 2014, no matter what stance a state takes on the issue.

McQueeney describes herself as a supporter of the health-care law from the "get-go," attending rallies when Congress was debating the issue. She manages the health-care benefits for Palm Beach Groves employees, and became accustomed to double-digit premium increases.

She tried shopping around to insurance agents. No one would quote her company a cheaper rate. Most of the employees are in their 50s and 60s and have a few pre-existing conditions among them. McQueeney herself has had arthritis for about a decade.

"We've forgone raises for seven or eight years," McQueeney says. "I do talk to everybody and say this is a choice we have to make, between a raise and health insurance. We could drop out and all do this on our own. Or we keep the policy, and don't get raises."

Premiums were rising at the same time that business was taking a turn for the worse. The recession hit Palm Beach Groves hard. As McQueeney puts it, "We're discretionary spending: Nobody has to send a box of fruit for the holidays."

The health-care law, she says, has brought her business some relief. First, there was the small-business tax credit that she heard about from the Internal Revenue Services' small business mailing list.

Earlier this month, she got more good news: Her business would receive a $1,582 insurance rebate. Her health insurer had not met the "80/20 rule," which requires insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on medical care. Palm Beach Grove's carrier did not hit the requirement, and had to pay back the difference.

"I was so excited I thought, I'm going to frame this," McQueeney says, of receiving the check. She decided that there were better uses for the new money than art work, however, and ended up depositing the check within an hour of receipt.

I asked McQueeney — a clearly enthusiastic supporter of the Affordable Care Act — why she thinks the law has not gotten more popular. In Florida, its approval rating hovers around 43 percent.

"I don't think it was ever properly explained," she says. "It's a complicated law. As people are getting rebate checks, I think it will start clicking. The dynamics are changing."

With $9,000 of the company's health-care tab covered, McQueeney is taking a new look at compensation packages. She does not know if the numbers will allow for raises this year. "I need to know if the premiums next year will remain the same or lower," she says. If they do stay low — and orange order rebound a little bit — the first raise in a decade could soon be in Palm Beach Groves' future.

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