Exchange Day: Members of self-employed generation eager to embrace Obamacare

DENVER — Morgan Kinney is one of 48 million uninsured Americans. He’s also one of more than 10 million Americans who have started their own business over the last decade. And when the Affordable Care Act goes into effect on January 1, 2014, Kinney will join the estimated 15 million Americans newly qualifying for Medicaid.

When he first learned that the act’s insurance exchanges would open today, with their subsidized plans, Kinney jumped online to see if he could find coverage that fit his budget. The exchange calculator he used said he didn’t qualify for a subsidy but that he did qualify for Medicaid.

Obamacare expands Medicaid coverage to include everyone making less than 133 percent of the poverty line, which is less than $15,282 for single people and $31,322 for a family of four. The expansion will just cover Kinney.

“It didn’t really click for a little bit that it would change something in my personal life,” Kinney said. “The law just seemed like a bunch of politics … just both sides barking at each other, totally disconnected from actual people. But when I realized how it would impact me personally, it was a sea change.”

Kinney is just over 30 years old and has a postgraduate degree and license in mental health counseling. It hasn’t escaped him that there is irony in the fact that he is a health care worker who can’t afford health care. But he says, these days, lack of health insurance comes part and parcel with being an entrepreneur.

Kinney gave up his insurance when he left his job in Maine to work for a cognitive coaching startup in Colorado. He developed his own nonprofit during his off-time.

“When I was younger, I wrote off the idea of being an entrepreneur,” said Kinney. “It literally didn’t seem like an option because financially it would involve so much nested risk. But all I wanted to do was something creative, something innovative…”

In his work now, Kinney focuses on neuroplasticity — the idea that, through challenge, the brain can change. His practice is geared toward helping kids overcome learning disabilities and adults defend against Alzheimers. He thinks his work is at the forefront of preventative care.

“My boss would love to some day see this covered by health care [insurance],” he said. “We can do tremendous work on brain health. It’s predictive of mortality and it ensures quality of life.”

Kinney has joined many millions of American self-employed proprietors. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that 99 percent of the total increase in employment during the last decade came from the self-employed sector.

Kinney’s also one of 40 million Americans with outstanding student loans.

“I’ve deferred and deferred,” he said. “Occasionally I’ll get a letter saying ‘Your deferral is up. You owe $600 today.’ I do not have that money.”

For Kinney, and many young Americans, there’s a brutal cocktail at work — underemployment mixed with health-insurance-less-ness mixed with debt-load — that Obamacare begins to dilute.

“It’s the difference between living with a sense of underlying desperation and a sense of underlying security,” said Kinney. “If you feel secure, you don’t act out of fear. You can make decisions strategically for yourself and others.

“Right now, people take not having health care for granted. It’s going to take time, but it will happen that people will get [covered]. Covered will become the new norm.”

[ Image: Morgan Kinney by Tessa Cheek ]