By Lonnie Ross
Efforts continue at local and national levels to inform more people about the benefits of the health care law, especially the investments the Affordable Care Act (ACA) makes in the African American community.
President Barack Obama and his aides are engaged in a long-term effort to promote the new health care law.
He has a lot of help.
In Mississippi, a coalition of consumer health advocates, providers and other stakeholders, called Cover Mississippi have been working to educate and enroll Mississippians in the new Health Insurance Marketplace.
According to Cover Mississippi, the Health Insurance Marketplace offers a new opportunity for part-time and full-time workers in Mississippi to get affordable health insurance, especially since most private employers in Mississippi are not able to provide health insurance to their employees.
Over 275,000 Mississippians are eligible to purchase a plan in the Marketplace and over 80 percent of those eligible will qualify for tax credits and subsidies that will lower their premiums and out of pocket costs.
Cover Mississippi and Jeff Good, president of Mangia Bene Restaurant Management Group Inc., hosted an enrollment event for the restaurant employees at BRAVO!, Sal & Mookie’s and Broad Street Bakery Dec. 16.
On Dec. 18, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, joined by White House Senior Advisor and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, Valerie Jarrett, met with a group of moms in the Oval Office to discuss how health care reform could benefit their families.
According to the White House: three million young adults gained health insurance because they can stay on their parents’ health plan until age 26.
Since young adults are expected to sign up for coverage during the remaining months of open enrollment, the Obama administration is reaching out to women through the Marketplaces and with the help of other agencies and non-profits through op-eds, social media content, and enrollment events across the country.
Jarrett was joined by U.S. House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn and U.S. Health and Human Services Director of External Affairs Anton Gunn on a Dec. 12 phone conference to provide updates on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), improvements to HealthCare.gov website, and health education events taking place around the country.
The three talked about how African Americans continue to benefit from the many advantages of the ACA including expanded options to lower costs, protection from discrimination based on a pre-existing condition for children, increased access to life-saving preventative services, and targeted assistance to underserved communities.
Today, according to Jarrett, 14.2 million people maybe eligible for ACA. Health exchange markets can enroll by phone, website, mail, or get local help. “Insurance companies can no longer charge premiums due to pre-existing and current health conditions,” Jarrett said. “This is new protection.”
Clyburn said that 17 million children will no longer be denied health coverage due to a pre-existing condition.
“250,000 of these children are in South Carolina, my home state,” Clyburn said. “Children and parents are pleased that they can now get affordable health care.”
He emphasized two big benefits: protection from unfair health insurance practices and more health items covered.
Gunn said, “Six in ten African Americans can be eligible for affordable health care now, through ACA, expanded Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).”
“In the first two months, 1.2 million Americans are already enrolled through healthcare.gov or received notice that they are eligible for health care and expanded Medicaid.”
He said the website is vastly improved and has been able to manage all of the website traffic since Dec. 1. The administration has made over 400 bug fixes and major changes to management.
“Anyone can fill out an application, shop and enroll now. User experience is vastly different now, so much better. The door is now open for new customers. There are lots of opportunities now for people to go get coverage,” Gunn said.
He said the Obama Administration recommended that insurance companies allow people to enroll through Dec. 31, 2013 to get coverage by Jan. 1, 2014. Currently the deadline is Dec. 23, but the White House is hoping that individual insurance companies will extend the deadline.
Only 25 states plus the District of Columbia have taken advantage of the Medicaid expansion. Mississippi is still not participating. Gunn said the door is not closed and will never close for states to participate in the Medicaid expansion.
Under the expansion, Medicaid would be available to anyone making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal government pays 100 percent of medical expenses for the newly qualified enrollees from 2014 to 2017. After that, the federal share would be reduced to 90 percent by 2020, with each state paying the balance.
The Mississippi Division of Medicaid said that 641,378 people were enrolled in the program at the end of 2012. The state’s population is just under three million. Up to 288,000 newly eligible people could be expected to enroll in Medicaid if the state does an expansion, according to a study by the Urban Institute for the nonpartisan Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.
A new report by two University of Alabama researchers, David Becker and Michael Morrisey, shows that Mississippi taxpayers would spend $579 million between 2014 and 2020, but will draw more than $1.4 billion in tax revenues as a result. This will generate over $14 billion in total new economic activity. It would create 20,000 new jobs and provide an $848 million increase in net state and local tax revenues.
Jarrett, Clyburn, and Gunn just want to get the word out to as many people as they can, as quickly as they can.
“I just finished giving a talk about ACA on a panel in Memphis at the National Black Caucus of Black State Legislators conference. I was also learning about what state legislators are doing in their community to educate stakeholders about the ACA. We have a lot of work being done, hosting webinars, community events all over to get the word out and to educate about ACA,” said Gunn.
“There are three ways to enroll: 1. You can enroll on the website (healthcare.gov), 2. You can enroll over the phone 24/7 at 1-800-318-2596, and 3. You can get help through local navigators (go to localhelp.healthcare.gov for a local list).”