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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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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