June 2015: The best & worst of times

If a single month can embody the best and worst of our nation, then I think June 2015 is such a month. I was numb from the horrific murders of nine innocents in Charleston, SC, and disappointed by southern conservatives’ defense of the historically controversial Confederate flag.

A week and half later, I was filled with relief by the Supreme Court’s ruling that over six million United States residents will not lose their affordable health care. The possibility of losing affordable health care was a result of political battles by persons with copious amounts of power and privilege, ironically, many of whom already benefit from government-provided health care.June FYI

Two days later, my belief in the importance of equality was affirmed by the wisdom of the United States Supreme Court as they ruled that same-sex partners have the legal right to be married and for those marriages to be recognized in all parts of our country. All of this, and in just the last two weeks of June.

The design of our federal government to maintain a healthy balance of power is exquisite. The recent rulings by the Supreme Court regarding free speech, Affordable Health Care, fair housing and marriage equality underscore the historic and continuing role that our independent judiciary has in changing our systems to address oppressions in favor of equality and equitable opportunities.

As I reflect upon the killing of African Americans while worshiping in church by someone heralding the hateful symbolism of white supremacy, playing politics to deny low-income persons the benefits of a rich and prosperous nation, and the continuing resistance to recognition of the rights of some to have legal and recognized loving relationships, I come to the conclusion that we are in a fundamental struggle for the soul of our nation. Our struggles in the 21st century are painfully reminiscent of the civil rights struggles of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. What is clear to me is that the same race, societal, economic and health inequities that birthed the community action movement remain relevant and ripe five decades later.

With this degree of challenge and change, we are exposed to too many 21st century soundbites and much too short on serious civic discourse. We need more thought-provoking and actionable input to encourage and support forward movement. In the month of June, I did hear several statements worthy of sharing with you:

As a nation, we are addicted to incarceration.” -Kimberly Ambrose, UW School of Law, Director of the Race & Justice Clinic: Governing for Racial Equity Conference

“I’m preparing my children for the world while I’m preparing the world for my children.” -Craig Sims, Chief Criminal Division, Seattle City Attorney’s Office: Governing for Racial Equity Conference

“For all the houses we had, I never had a home.” -Jason, an adult Moth Radio participant, sharing his childhood experience with homelessness since age seven: Committee to End Homeless Conference

“Racist teachers? Not intentionally. But as a district, if we know this is going on, why haven’t we taken any real steps to address it as a system?” -Ted Howard, Principal of Garfield High School in Seattle, reflecting on disparities in school discipline correlated to race

This is both the best and the worst of times. While some work has been done, some changes made and some goals realized, there is no room or time for complacency. June 2015 was another call to action, bringing focus and attention to serious issues requiring serious people who are committed to action. I’m glad that at Solid Ground, we are those people.

Affordable Care Act (ACA) now in open enrollment!

King County "Coverage is Here" logoWashington state is currently in the open enrollment period to renew or sign up for low-cost private insurance. Enrollment for qualified health plans began November 15, 2014 and will end on February 15, 2015, so time is of the essence to sign up! There are very informative resources available about affordable health care on the Washington healthplanfinder website as well as social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

But remember, for those who qualify for Washington Apple Health (formerly called Medicaid), enrollment is open all year – so people can sign up any time! If you are not sure of your eligibility, this very helpful chart from Health Care Authority includes the income limits for the various Apple Health programs.

Other resources that might be helpful in comparing, purchasing and enrolling for health insurance include Washington LawHelp self-help materials, which outline some basic legal information regarding the current state policies in a clear and organized format. Also, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange website offers individuals and families materials to find and pay for quality health insurance. In addition, The Northwest Health Law Advocates recently created a very informative self-help publication for anyone in need of further details about the various insurance options for health care in Washington.

If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact Solid Ground’s Family Assistance  program’s Intake Line: 206.694.6742 or WAFINDER: 855.923.4633. Here’s to a healthy (and fully-insured) 2015!

Special enrollment & the Affordable Care Act

For a large segment of the US general public, open enrollment for health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014 was October 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014. Most who missed that window will have to wait until the next open enrollment period for coverage in 2015, which is November 15, 2014 through February 15, 2015. However, exceptions for certain life events qualify some people for special enrollment, which is year round. Exceptions include those who qualify for or are renewing Washington Apple Health (formerly known as Medicaid in Washington state), marriage, divorce, birth or adoption of a child, foster care, or death of a dependent. There are many other qualifying factors, but all of the explanatory jargon can be confusing at times.Health Care 1985

Thankfully, our Family Assistance Program has been hard at work providing trainings and legal advice on the ACA. The purpose of these trainings is to assist people with education on and enrollment in the newly available medical insurance through the Health Benefit Exchange and Apple Health. For example, one of the major changes from the expansion of the Medicaid program affects those making up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level. Specifically, if a single household earns under $1,274 per month (or $15,290 per year), then they can access Apple Health and apply for it at any time. Folks who make more than that are potentially eligible to purchase a Qualified Health Plan through the Health Benefit Exchange during the next open enrollment.

Solid Ground holds an ongoing commitment to educate and enroll the uninsured in free or affordable health care. From October 1, 2013 to May 29, 2014, 178,659 residents were enrolled for health care coverage in King County. Amazingly, 40,021 of them were previously eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled, 48,344 are receiving coverage through a Qualified Health Plan, and 90,294 newly eligible people signed up for Apple Health. Our President and CEO, Gordon McHenry Jr., couldn’t be more thrilled. “These impressive results were the work of a great partnership involving King County Public Health, our medical providers and many nonprofits, including Solid Ground,” he said in a letter to Solid Ground staff. “Equitable access to quality, free or affordable health care is essential to a community that is healthy and thriving.”

Reminder: Open enrollment for Apple Health is year-round, and applications can be accessed through Washington Healthplanfinder. If you have questions regarding special enrollment or anything else regarding coverage under the ACA, please contact the Family Assistance Program at 206.694.6742.

40th Anniversary Timeline, 1984: Building coalitions & advocacy campaigns

SHSC 1984

1984

In the early eighties, Fremont Public Association helped organize coalitions of providers, starting with the food banks, which joined together as the Seattle Food Committee (SFC). Solid Ground continues to staff and provide leadership to the coalition.

The FPA also played a key role organizing the Survival Services Coalition, which led to the Seattle Human Services Coalition (SHSC) in 1987. SHSC is currently comprised of more than 250 agencies and fights for local, state and federal funding to support programs for people in need. From the early days of leveraging $500,000 in city support for human services, grassroots organizing has led to over $40 million in annual investment.

Molar Majority 1984

Molar Majority Campaign: Our Fair Budget Action Campaign led the successful effort to reinstate dental services for adults living on low incomes after the state cut adult dental benefits in 1982. The work to get quality dental services to all Washingtonians continues in our current efforts to promote Affordable Care Act health care coverage.

 

 

 

WA Exchange reports strong Obamacare enrollment; Medicaid enrollment stays open

1985_Health CareGreat news on the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) front!

The big enrollment numbers are in and they are looking good:

  • 146,500 people signed up for private insurance on the WA exchange, including 8,000 on March 31, the last day to sign up.
  • 268,164 newly eligible people signed up for Medicaid (called Washington Apple Health in our state) – that’s TWICE the state’s goal!
  • All told, approximately 958,000 people in our state signed up for or renewed their health insurance through wahealthplanfinder.org over the past six months.
  • Numbers are coming soon that outline breakdown by age, as well as new vs. renew – stay tuned.

A few important reminders:

  • Medicaid has open enrollment all the time – it is not impacted by Monday’s deadline. Many in our community are Medicaid-eligible (up to 138% of federal poverty level). If folks are unsure whether or not they qualify, they can call our ACA Hotline at 206.694.6714).
  • People can sign up for private insurance at any time during the year IF they have had a major life event, such as a marriage, divorce, job loss, birth or adoption of a child, or move to/from another state.
  • Wahealthplanfinder.org is the online portal to sign up for both Medicaid and private insurance. People can still use the website to sign up for insurance in either of the above situations.
  • If people tried to buy private insurance on Monday, but got cut off by computer issues, or if they are dealing with a natural disaster, domestic violence, or a few other issues, they can request an extension by calling 1.855.923.4633 or emailing customersupport@wahbexchange.org.
  • Have additional questions about any of my reminders? Check out the FAQ from the WA Health Exchange Board.

This has been a tremendous effort – from all the way back in 2009/2010 when we marched together in the streets to pass the Affordable Health Act, through all the political wrangling, and into implementation and sign up. Congratulations to everyone who advocated for passage of the Act and is helping to get the word out in the community. Let’s keep it up and ensure that we continue investing in the health and well-being of our communities!

Marcy Bowers is Solid Ground’s Advocacy Deputy Director and the Director of the Statewide Poverty Action Network.

Why it’s worth signing up for insurance coverage by March 31

King County "Coverage is Here" logo(Editor’s note: This article was authored by Gordon and Tom Gibbon of Swedish Medical Center and orginally appeared as an op-ed in the March 26 Seattle Times.)

We have less than a week to take advantage of the most significant opportunity in most of our lifetimes to strengthen our community. March 31 is the end of the initial enrollment period for low-cost health insurance.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the growing gaps in our community – gaps between wealthy and poor, between neighborhoods, between racial and ethnic groups.

King County has some of the healthiest communities in the world, yet there are many who have fallen behind. Our prosperity as a region depends on everyone being able to contribute and reach his or her full potential.

We now have a resource to help shrink those disparities; we have the opportunity for nearly everyone in King County to get affordable health care.

Whether you live in Queen Anne or SeaTac, whether or not you have a job and regardless of what language you speak, the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, provides a critical resource.

Before the new health exchange Washington Healthplanfinder went online in October, there were more than 200,000 uninsured adults in King County. Most had incomes that qualify them for subsidized or free health insurance under the new law.

If awareness and enrollment information can move this group to action, that’s a two-fisted blow against inequities.

First, the ACA gives people access to preventive care and routine medical care that can keep them safe and healthy enough to work and care for their families. Second, it gives them financial security against bankrupting medical bills or other emergency costs that can drain savings in an instant.

If we can do that, we’ll take 16 percent of residents ages 18 to 64 – most of whom are working in the service sector or as laborers, often part time – and raise their standards of living, without taking anything away from everyone else.

To be sure, narrowing the gap in health would require public-health strategies to address chronic diseases and injuries.

But insurance would at least provide people with more affordable access to care.

Right now, King County has some of the greatest disparities in health coverage in the country.

For example, adults in South King County cities such as Des Moines or Federal Way are seven to eight times more likely to be uninsured than adults in Mercer Island or Sammamish. Latinos are nearly four times as likely and African Americans more than twice as likely to be uninsured as whites.

If most uninsured people who qualify do enroll in the exchange, we could make a dramatic difference in health coverage. The rate of uninsurance in much of South King County could decrease from 30 percent to 10 percent.

The key is to spread the word. Survey results show that many of the uninsured remain unaware of their eligibility for a new type of affordable insurance. And they’re unaware that a deadline looms. The end of the first open enrollment period for private health plans is March 31.

The next open enrollment period for subsidized plans is in the fall, although enrollment in Apple Health, the state’s Medicaid program, continues all year.

As community leaders who are tasked by King County Executive Dow Constantine with championing health-insurance enrollment, we ask that you tell your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, employees and others that coverage is available now and is more affordable than you think.

Gordon McHenry Jr., President & CEO of Solid Ground, and Tom Gibbon of Swedish Medical Center, co-chair the Cover King County Leadership Circle and are appointed by the King County Executive.

Affordable Care Act: Help us continue to get the word out!

Image from U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services study - HealthCare.gov

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services study – HealthCare.gov

King County is a national leader in obtaining health care coverage through expanded Medicaid and Qualified Health Plans. In 2013, King County set a goal of enrolling at least 180,000 residents (80,000 in Medicaid and 100,000 in subsidized Exchange coverage) by 31 March 2014, the end of the initial enrollment period.

On Friday, we convened the Executive Committee of the King County Enrollment Leadership Circle to review our progress. I’m pleased to report that by early this month, over 75,000 King County residents have been enrolled since October! Our challenge is that of those 75,000 new enrollees, only around 20,000 are enrolled in a Qualified (subsidized) Health Plan. Also, those enrolled between the ages of 19 and 34 are significantly low.

While King County is on-plan to achieve its goal of enrolling 80,000 persons in (expanding) Washington Apple Health (Medicaid), we need significant renewed effort to reach our goal of ensuring 100,000 eligible residents obtain affordable care through a Qualified Health Plan.

Solid Ground will remain a leader as a part of King County’s collective effort to leverage this historic opportunity (see The Affordable Care Act: A potential ‘life-changer’ for people living on low incomes). As we know well, education, employment and health care are essential to ending poverty.

That is whywe are encouraging everyone to talk with family, friends, colleagues and clients, especially those who are ages 19 – 34. Please initiate conversations regarding health care and encourage those who do not have coverage to enroll prior to 31 March 2014. Thank you!

The Affordable Care Act: A potential ‘life-changer’ for people living on low incomes

King County "Coverage is Here" logoIn partnership with King County Public Health, Solid Ground’s Family Assistance program has been engaged in outreach and education on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) since open enrollment began October 1. As the December 23 enrollment deadline to receive benefits starting January 1 approaches, it becomes more important than ever to reach out to King County residents.

Despite the well-reported problems with the federal website, HealthCare.gov, Washington State’s exchange site, wahealthplanfinder.org, has had relative success enrolling people, though not without its own challenges. While the state exchange site has had its hiccups, it is still performing better than the national federal enrollment website. As of December 3, wahealthplanfinder.org enrollment topped 175,000 while the federal exchange, which serves 36 states, enrolled about the same.

Stephanie Earhart, Family Assistance Lead Benefits Attorney, is managing Solid Ground’s Education and Outreach program for the ACA. According to her, both the federal and state website glitches are causing the most issues with enrollment.

“The problem with wahealthplanfinder.org is rooted in the fact that, in order to confirm an identity, a cross-check must be performed through the HealthCare.gov website – which also hooks up to the IRS, Social Security and immigration sites. If anything goes wrong with those hubs, we get an error code on our end. People enrolling will then be told to call the customer center, but those centers are overloaded with calls,” Stephanie explains.

Another option is to file a paper application. However, paper applications must still be entered into the same system, and thus will experience the same glitches consumers are struggling with. Stephanie mentions that in November, “only 17% of those on existing Medicaid plans had renewed them – likely because those renewals were filed as paper applications. There is a backlog now, and who knows when those will get processed.”

Instead, she encourages King County residents to use the Washington exchange website if possible or find an assistor to help set up an account and work through any issues that might arise.

Neighborcare Health has partnered with Solid Ground, acting as in-person assistors for those needing help with enrollment and navigating the website. A Neighborcare assistor provides enrollment support at Solid Ground every Tuesday between 1-5pm, or you can call 206.548.3013 to schedule a free appointment with an eligibility specialist at a local Neighborcare Health clinic.

One of the Education and Outreach program’s most important goals is to end confusion about ACA and the benefits offered – which is still causing people to hesitate to enroll. “I still talk to clients who have no idea about the Affordable Care Act, or what they have heard is bad. As an agency, that’s one of the reasons Solid Ground is supporting education and outreach. We want people to know that this is actually a good thing. We support it. You can trust it,” Stephanie expresses. She recommends the King County Public Health website as a great resource for more information on all the wonderful benefits – such as the 10 Essential Benefits – Affordable Care coverage has to offer.

We are spreading the message to clients, friends and family: ‘Coverage is here!’ To Stephanie – and many others at Solid Ground who work directly with people who qualify for the new free or low-cost health insurance – the implementation of the ACA is a blessing. Stephanie declares that, “Coming from the work I’ve done for the last 10 years, fighting to get people medical coverage – very sick people who don’t meet the disability standard – the fact that I can say, ‘You can get covered now,’ that’s my focus. For those living on low incomes, this is going to be a life-changer. True social justice.”

If you would like us to visit your community organization to do an education/outreach event, please contact Stephanie Earhart with the Family Assistance program: stephaniee@solid-ground.org or 206.694.6714.

Coverage is here!

Starting October 1, 2013, over 180,000 persons in King County (280,000 in Washington State) have the opportunity to obtain Medicaid or affordable subsidized medical insurance. This incredible opportunity is the result of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, with the new benefits beginning on January 1, 2014.

DuoLogosKing County Public Health is the lead agency in King County, and they have set a goal of enrolling at least 93,000 King County residents in this first year of eligibility. (See the Washington Healthplanfinder website for more information.)

I have the privilege of serving as one of the three co-chairs appointed by King County Executive Dow Constantine to ensure that nonprofit/community-based organizations, businesses and the medical community coordinate their respective sectors to actively partner with King County to educate, conduct outreach and assist the County and cities in enrolling those persons who are eligible to have affordable medical care.

I am proud that Solid Ground is one of a select group of partners approved by King County to engage in education and outreach about affordable care. And while Solid Ground will not be offering in-person enrollment assistance, we will refer people to community partners who can help people enroll.

If you would like us to visit your community organization to do an education/outreach event, please contact Stephanie Earhart with the Family Assistance Program: stephaniee@solid-ground.org or 206.694.6714.

Ensuring that low-income persons, including single adults, have Medicaid and that low- and lower-income residents (singles and families) have affordable quality medical care is a once in a lifetime occurrence. Having easy access to preventative medical care and to be able to receive medical treatment when sick or injured is a basic human right – one that has routinely been unavailable to those who are poor and oppressed. Medical care is fundamental to a healthy lifestyle and to our mission of ending poverty.

My ask is that every person at Solid Ground find a way to actively participate in ensuring that the communities we serve are aware of and take advantage of these critically important benefits. The goal is to activate Solid Ground in support of enrollment in the Affordable Care Act and to develop a list of various ways we all can participate. Please share any ideas you have with us. Working together, we can make a huge step in achieving our vision of a community that has moved beyond poverty and oppression to a place of thriving!

For more information, go to the Washington Healthplanfinder website.

Innovation Center proposal co-locates community college, services at Pacific Tower

The future of the historic Pacific Tower building is at an important juncture as the Pacific Hospital Preservation & Development Authority is considering a proposal to create The Beacon Community Health College & Innovation Center at Pacific Tower.

The PDA will accept written comments on the Innovation Center and another proposal that is believed to be from a private developer to convert the historic medical campus into high-end residential units.

Please address comments to:

PDA Executive Director Rosemary Aragon
Pacific Hospital Preservation & Development Authority
1200 12th Avenue S, Quarters 2
Seattle, WA 98144

Jacqueline 1The Innovation Center proposal calls for “bringing new life to an iconic building for vital public purposes, including critically needed training programs in nursing, dental hygiene and other health care professions, cross-cultural health care training programs, community meeting facilities and space for nonprofit organizations that share the goal of building stronger, healthier communities for generations to come.”

The Center would be anchored in Seattle Community College programs that are designed to create the skilled workforce needed to meet Medicaid expansion and supported by an array of community agencies that share the goal of building community through services and innovation.

Among the organizations that have expressed interest in co-locating services:

The co-location is based on the model pioneered at the Opportunity Center for Employment and Education at North Seattle Community College.

Solid Ground, along with many other community groups and agencies, supports the proposal.

Again, to submit written support of the proposal, please address comments to:

PDA Executive Director Rosemary Aragon
Pacific Hospital Preservation & Development Authority
1200 12th Avenue S, Quarters 2
Seattle, WA 98144

Or email your comments to: r.aragon@phpda.org.

A public hearing will be scheduled soon! We’ll update this post as we hear about the date and time!

 

How health care ruling impacts low-income folks in Washington State

With all the excitement over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, we asked some of Solid Ground’s experts: What does it mean for low-income folks in Washington State? We present the following report thanks to Kate Baber of the Statewide Poverty Action Network and Stephanie Earhart, lead Benefits Attorney with Solid Ground’s Family Assistance program.

Photo from the Christian Science Monitor

Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld the 2010 federal health care reform law, known as the Affordable Care Act. This landmark decision allows the imple-mentation of the Affordable Care Act to move forward and will greatly expand low- and middle-income Americans’ quality and access to health care.

The Affordable Care Act will bring much needed relief to low-income communities across Washington. Since the onset of the Great Recession, access to health care coverage has become further out of reach for families and individuals due to economic hardship resulting from job loss, debt and foreclosure, cuts to employer-sponsored health coverage, and reductions in state-funded health care programs. As the economy recovers, health care reform will ensure Washington has a healthy workforce, children and students are better able to learn, and seniors and adults living with disabilities can survive.

Beginning in 2014, 800,000 of Washington’s 1 million uninsured people will be able to access health insurance. In addition to expanding access to coverage, the Affordable Care Act includes consumer protections that will greatly improve the quality and lower the cost of health care coverage for the 5.8 million Washingtonians who are currently insured.

Here’s how health care reform will benefit your community:

Reforms Already in Place:

  • Insurance providers are barred from imposing lifetime benefit limits on people who are sick and need expensive care to get better.
  • Insurance providers cannot deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.
  • Adults with pre-existing conditions can access care through a Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan.
  • Children can stay on their parents’ health care plan until the age of 26.

Reforms to Be Implemented in 2014:

  • Medicaid will be expanded to cover an additional 333,000 low-income Washingtonians. In Washington State, everyone at or below 133% of the Federal Poverty Level will be covered by Medicaid beginning in 2014.
  • Overall, 477,000 low- and moderate-income people will become eligible for subsidized care in the new health insurance exchange program.
  • Insurance providers cannot deny coverage to adults with pre-existing conditions and can’t impose limitations on enrollment.
  • Insurance providers cannot charge higher premiums to women or sicker people and have new restrictions on how much they can charge seniors.
  • Prescription drugs will be more affordable for 1 million seniors and people living with disabilities in Washington as the gap in Medicare drug coverage begins to close until it is eliminated by 2020.
  • Seniors will be able to access free preventative care.
  • Deductibles and co-payments for preventative services will be eliminated for everyone.
  • Coverage will be expanded for early retirees who are too young to qualify for Medicare, but no longer receive employer-sponsored coverage.

State subsidized health care programs that Poverty Action has worked hard to protect from budget cuts and elimination during the Great Recession will receive new federal support and will be combined with Medicaid and expanded. These programs include: health care coverage for kids (Apple Health), coverage for people living with disabilities and mental health issues (Medical Care Services), optional Medicaid programs such as dental care and medical interpreters, and coverage for low-income, working families (Basic Health).

If you’d like to know more about Medicaid Expansion in Washington State, go to: http://www.hca.wa.gov/hcr/me.

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