As BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee announced it is in negotiations to make a return to the individual market in 2018 in Knoxville, those receiving coverage market say it is a relief.
Gray Comer is a self-employed guitar teacher and audio engineer who also has a pre-existing condition called stiff skin syndrome.
"Basically, my skin overproduces collagen," Comer said. "Everybody has collagen. Everybody needs collagen. My skin doesn't know, due to a genetic mutation, when to stop producing it."
His fingers can still strum the guitar, but the condition has caused other health and mobility issues for Comer.
"The only thing that's technically wrong with me is that my skin is too tight, but that has caused problems with my lungs, problems with my gastrointestinal system," he said.
The condition also prevented him from getting insurance coverage prior to the implementation of Obamacare. Comer calls himself an "Obamacare success story."
Last year, Comer said he was covered by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, but after the provider pulled out of the marketplace, he is now covered by Humana.
When Humana made the decision not to cover Knoxville in 2018, Comer said he wasn't sure what would happen to his insurance.
"There was a lot of panic and anxiety among me and 30,000 other people in East Tennessee who are part of the marketplace," he said.
Now that BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has announced it's negotiating a return to the 16-county region around Knoxville, Comer said it's a slight relief.
"It's huge," he said. "It's absolutely huge news that BlueCross BlueShield is going to be part of the marketplace for next year."
Tennessee lawmakers reacted to the news with varying views.
State Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville, tweeted, "Thanks to multiple meetings between Republicans in the Legislature, the Administration and members of Congress, BCBS will serve Knox in 2018."
Also, State Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, tweeted, "BlueCross mentioned that our votes against mandates help create an environment, allowing them to re-enter the individual market in Knoxville."
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in a statement, "This is welcome news that should give some peace of mind to 34,000 residents in the Knoxville area that they may be able to use their subsidies to buy insurance next year. But if BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee does ultimately offer plans next year it is only a temporary solution – premiums and copays will be higher and there's no guarantee there will be insurance in the marketplace in 2019, 2020 and beyond.”
While the debate about health care continues at the national level, Comer said he still has questions about the kind of coverage, if any, that he'll have in the future.
"There's still a lot of uncertainty going forward about how all this is going to play out," he said, "but hopefully that picture becomes clearer in the upcoming weeks and months."
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