Confusion and concern: That’s what most of the 50 Richmond residents expressed last week at Civic Center Plaza during a workshop about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama’s subsidized health coverage that’s commonly called Obamacare.
“There is a lot of confusion about what Obamacare is, and what the details are,” said Morgan Westfall, the event organizer and project coordinator at Community Clinic Consortium, an advocacy group that helps Contra Costa and Solano County residents with health and quality-of-life issues.
“We want to make sure that people understand it clearly,” she said to the crowd.
President Obama signed the health reform bill into law in 2010 and although some provisions are already in place, the act will go into effect in its entirety in January 2014. Until then, community organizations are holding workshops, such as the one held last week, to educate those who could benefit from the reform. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the law intends to make preventive care — including family planning — more accessible and affordable.
At the workshop, Westfall explained that the ACA expands health insurance coverage to an estimated 32 million uninsured Americans. It also increases coverage for those who are insured, she said.
Living without insurance is something Richmond resident Courtney Cummings has to deal with personally.
“It’s not a great way of life. You have to think how you are going to pay for prescriptions, food or medicine. What’s the priority?” Cummings asked. She’s hopeful Obamacare will help her.
“It looks great on paper. I hope that it transfers well from paper to reality,” she said.
ACA will also help expand Medicare, according to Westfall.
“Many free preventive services like mammograms, colonoscopies and a free annual wellness visit are now included, and there will be a 50 percent discount on covered brand name medications,” Westfall explained. Using 2011 health-cost figures, a typical Californian would have saved $600 on health care if the ACA had been in effect, Westfall said. Economists warn that the new law may have unexpected consequences on the economics of health care, making estimates on future savings under the law especially tricky.
According to Westfall, more than 1.4 million Californians will be eligible for an expanded Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid. In Contra Costa County alone, 20,000 to 30,000 people between ages 20 and 64 will be eligible, she said.
Like Medicaid, Medi-Cal eligibility is based on family size and income. Someone with an annual income of 138 percent of the federal poverty level is eligible for Medi-Cal — that’s approximately $15,500 a year per person.
According to the California Department of Healthcare Services, one in four Californians under the age of 65 use Medi-Cal.
In addition to this, Westfall said that 5.3 million Californians may be eligible for coverage through Covered California, California’s health benefit exchange; and more than 2.6 million of those may be eligible for tax subsidies.
Starting this October, Richmond residents will be able to fill out an online application at CalHEERS (California Healthcare Eligibility, Enrollment and Retention System). (http://www.healthexchange.ca.gov)
Westfall said uninsured people with family incomes of up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level — $44,000 per year per person, $92,500 per year for a family with two working adults and two children — can receive tax credits based on annual income when they buy insurance through Covered California, she said.
Wrapping up the workshop, Westfall encouraged residents to keep asking questions to staff at community health centers in the area, including the Community Clinic Consortium in Richmond.
After the workshop Richmond resident Peter Govorchin still had doubts about the health reform. “It’s a federal subsidy for insurance companies,” he said. “I am not sure to what extent it will help.”
There will be another workshop on Sept. 4 at the Vacaville Library at 1020 Ulatis Dr. Vacaville, CA 95687 from 7 to 9 p.m.