Moderated by Rick Badie
You’d think Georgians would sign up in droves for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, given this is a high-needs state with an uninsured population of roughly 20 percent. Today, Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius and a local advocate urge residents to sign up before open enrollment ends on March 31. Meanwhile, a state lawmaker wants to “quarantine” the new law.
Sigh up today for an insurance plan
By Kathleen Sebelius
If you or someone you care about does not have health care, it’s not too late to sign up for affordable coverage. But you’ll want to act today. The deadline to get insurance is March 31. After that, you’ll have to wait until November.
Many of the people I’ve met told me they were surprised at how affordable marketplace insurance can be. An Atlanta family of four earning $50,000 a year can get covered for as little as $138 per month. A 27-year-old earning $25,000 can get covered for as little as $105 per month.
You can sign up 24 hours a day, seven days a week at HealthCare.gov or at 800-318-2596. You can even get in-person help in your community: Just visit localhelp.healthcare.gov and enter your ZIP code. If you speak Spanish, you can access our Spanish-language website at CuidadoDeSalud.gov and you can get in-person help, too.
Jay and Clare Schexnyder live here in Georgia. Jay lost his job a couple years ago. The Schexnyders were particularly concerned because they both have pre-existing medical conditions. Thanks to a severance package and COBRA, they were able to stay covered through 2013. But the clock was ticking, and their premiums were expensive.
You can imagine their relief when they found a plan at HealthCare.gov that cost less than half what they had been paying each month.
Before the Affordable Care Act, hardworking Atlanta families had few real options. Even if you worked hard and took responsibility, you could still have the rug pulled out from under you if you or someone in your family got sick, had an accident or experienced another hardship. You could pay your premium dutifully every month, only to have your insurer refuse to pay for care.
But today, in Atlanta, it truly is a new day. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, there is choice and competition. In fact, you can now choose from 64 qualified health plans.
Once you enroll, nobody can take your coverage away from you just because you get sick. Your insurance company can’t charge you more just because you are a woman; being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition.
What’s more, by law, insurance companies now have to cover health services like doctor’s visits, prescription drugs, ambulatory care and hospital stays. Preventive care like cancer and cholesterol screenings are covered with no additional money out of your pocket.
But if you don’t enroll by March 31, you won’t get this security that comes with a Marketplace plan — and you can’t enroll again until this fall.
The good news is that security for you and your family is only a click or a call away. You just need to sign up by March 31.
Kathleen Sebelius is secretary of Health and Human Services.
Bill diminishes health care law
By Jason Spencer
Tuesday, the General Assembly voted to pass a scaled-back version of House Bill 707 to circumscribe the Obamacare debacle. The final bill was not ideal; however, politics is the art of the possible, and I will claim victory nevertheless.
I am resolved next year to strengthen Georgia’s quarantine against Obamacare with provisions to prohibit the commissioner of insurance from enforcing its bewildering health care insurance prescriptions, and to curtail the payment of fees levied on health insurance policies for state or local government employees.
Jobs are vanishing. Health insurance premiums are climbing. Health care choices are shrinking. Error-plagued electronic enrollment remains vexing. And federal and state government health care expenditures continue soaring. The initial victory we scored last Tuesday would have been impossible without the tireless work of Carolyn Cosby and Georgians for Health Care Freedom. They gathered more than 37,000 signatures and voiced concerns to lawmakers.
A legislative overdose to cure all of Obamacare’s infirmities in one bill would have been deadly. Thus, I accepted this version of HB 707 (now part of House Bill 943), which was short of my ambition to prevent the federal government from commandeering any resource of state or local government to promote, enforce or administer Obamacare. As passed by the Georgia General Assembly, the bill’s prohibitions are threefold.
No state or local officer or employee on government time or with government resources is permitted to advocate for the expansion of Medicaid. The Medicaid program already places a crippling burden on the state budget. Further expansion would be fiscally prohibitive.
The legislation also prohibits the state from establishing or operating a health insurance exchange to administer or implement Obamacare. The federal government will be obligated to use its own money and resources to establish a federal health insurance exchange in Georgia and will be held accountable for incompetence in its operation or administration.
My bill further prohibits any department or agency of the state or political subdivision from using any funds—federal, state, or local—to operate so-called “navigator” programs to encourage or assist persons to enroll in Obamacare.
I was disappointed that deleted from HB 707 in the Georgia Senate was a landmark provision passed twice by the House of Representatives to prohibit the commissioner of insurance from investigating, enforcing, or adjudicating health insurance claims arising under the health insurance prescriptions of Obamacare.
The provision is necessary to hold the federal government politically accountable for its legislative or administrative follies that evoke popular wrath and prevent hiding behind state officials.
Democrats took great legal risks in passing Obamacare. It escaped constitutional death by a single vote in the U.S.Supreme Court. Republicans must be no less bold in confronting the never-ending encroachments on liberty of the federal leviathan.
State Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, represents District 180.
Close the health gap
By Cindy Zeldin
Since last October, more than 139,000 Georgians have enrolled in health insurance through the health exchange created by the Affordable Care Act. While political rhetoric surrounding health reform remains charged, the reality is that hundreds of Georgians gain coverage each day. By the end of open enrollment March 31, we will have put a dent in our uninsured.
If you are like most Georgians, you probably already have health insurance. You may have a plan through your job or, if you’re retired, you likely have Medicare. If you have young children, some of their classmates are probably covered through Medicaid or Peachcare for Kids.
While this patchwork system has worked for most Georgians, too many had been left out too long. Most of us know someone uninsured. Perhaps it is a neighbor who lost his job and its insurance. Or a young college graduate who pieces together part-time work. Or a friend with a heart condition who couldn’t find an insurance company to sell him a policy.
By 2012, nearly one in five Georgians were uninsured. Many of them now have options. That is something to celebrate.
Georgia’s insurance market is changing. Companies cannot deny coverage or charge more because of a pre-existing condition. Tax credits are available to level the playing field with counterparts who get health benefits on a pre-tax basis and with an employer contribution. Even if you don’t have employee health insurance, there may be a private health plan that meets your needs.
Georgians for a Healthy Future, through our Connecting Georgians to Coverage initiative, is part of a consortium of nonprofit organizations that provides education and enrollment assistance. Four years ago, when a consumer with a pre-existing condition called our office, there was little we could do. Today, we can refer him or her to a health insurance navigator who can help.
Unfortunately, we often encounter consumers who fall into the “coverage gap.” The health care law expanded Medicaid by opening it up to our lowest-income citizens, while authorizing tax credits for the purchase of private health insurance for individuals and families with moderate to middle incomes.
The 2012 Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act rendered Medicaid expansion optional for states. Georgia lawmakers chose not to expand it. As a result, roughly half a million Georgians fall into this coverage gap, making too little to qualify for tax credits in the exchange but still ineligible for Medicaid.
The federal dollars are on the table for Georgia to open up this option. The need is strong. What’s missing is the political will.
Cindy Zeldin is executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future.