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.

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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.

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.

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