BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
The US Dept of Health and Human Services, (HHS) which will remain under the Obama Administration until President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office January 20th, wants to make one thing very clear to African – Americans and others – the Affordable Care Act(ACA) is still the law of the land, and will remain so now through the end of 2017. Insurers have already contracted with the federal government to do so.
In fact, North Carolinians still needing comprehensive health care coverage at a reduced rate starting January 1st, are strongly urged to go to www.HealthCare.gov,Thursday, Dec.15th, to signup. Otherwise, you have until Jan. 31st, 2017, the deadline for the current open enrollment period, to signup, with your coverage commencing in February or March 2017.
Again, if you want your health insurance coverage under ACA to start January 1, 2017, you must signup online no later than Thursday, Dec. 15th, 2016 at www.HealthCare.gov. For assistance, call Enroll America at (855)733-3711, or go to www.getcoveredamerica.org/connector.
To alleviate any confusion about the fate of the ACA, HHS Sec. Sylvia Maxwell Burwell spoke exclusively with The Wilmington Journal and other black newspapers across the nation last week, urging that our readers not be fearful about press reports the Trump Administration and Congress’ plan to dismantle what is commonly known as “Obamacare”, andit may mean for those already enrolled, or those planning to enroll for low-cost comprehensive health insurance coverage.
“For consumers who want or need coverage for 2017, my message is simple – visit www.HealthCare.gov and check out your options, and don’t let the current political debate keep you from getting covered,” Sec. Burwell told reporters. “Insurers have said that when people signup for 2017 coverage, [the insurance companies] consider that a contract.”
“We’ve also heard members of Congress, issuers and the president-elect say that they don’t want to disrupt coverage next year. But on the other hand, looking beyond 2017, some of the proposals out there do threaten to take away coverage from tens of millions of people,” Burwell continued. “In particular there’s been discussion about acting immediately to repeal the law’s coverage expansion, but leaving the question of what would replace them for another day.”
“Let’s be clear – this so-called “repeal and delay” is effectively “repeal and collapse,”” Sec. Burwell declared. “Health insurance companies start making decisions about 2018 just a few months into the new year. Uncertainty can lead them to dramatically raise prices, or drop out of [the ACA marketplace] entirely. That means some Americans will likely not be able to find coverage at all, and others won’t be able to afford it.”
Press reports from conservative media like The Weekly Standard say GOP House and Senate leaders, working with Vice Pres.–elect Mike Pence are planning to do away with the ACA in at least three stages – repeal most of the law when Congress starts its new session Jan. 3, 2017, delay the implementation of most of that repeal for at least two years, and in the interim, determine what to replace the ACA with.
So, no one’s coverage should be affected in 2017, Sec. Burwell suggests, until the Republican legislative scenario plays out.
As it stands now, over 20 million Americans are covered under the ACA.
For African-Americans, according to HHS, 3 million more African-Americans who were uninsured before now have coverage, cutting the number of uninsured black adults by more than 50% (from 22.6 to 10.6%).
And 509,000 African-American young people between the ages of 19 and 26 who would have been uninsured now have coverage under their parents plan.
Given how maladies like diabetes, high blood pressure and certain forms of cancer plague black and other poor communities of color, ACA coverage is seen as giving African-Americans greater access to health services than ever before.
Sec. Burwell added these three points that ACA subscribers should know:
- – financial assistance to lower the cost of premium payments is available for 85% of new applicants who qualify. The cost of most plans can be lowered to $75.00 or less per-month after government tax credits are applied. Financial help is easy to signup for.
- – signing up between now and Jan. 31st at HealthCare.gov is easier. You’ll immediately see the type of health care coverage you qualify for, and how much financial help you can get. And using mobile devices is now easier.
- – there are help counselors available who speak multiple languages. Visit localhelp.healthcare.gov to find a location in their area with local help, or they can speak with someone over the phone 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week in English or Spanish at 1-800-318-2596.
Here in North Carolina, those enrolling in the ACA only have one insurance company, Blue Cross – Blue Shield, that provides service across the state. BCBSNC raised it’s ACA rates 32.5 % this year, and has announced a 24.3% hike for 2017. Thus, premiums here are higher than in many other states. But for those who qualify, the amount of tax credits and federal subsidies that help knock the premium costs down for individuals enrolled are also among the highest in the nation, an will remain so, even with projections of the premium cost going up next year.
Over 545,000 were enrolled in the ACA in North Carolina as of March of this year. Eighty-five percent of them are actually paying less than $100 per month in premiums after subsidies, and 77% are paying less than $50 per month.
Nationally, over 2.1 million people – both new consumers and renewing consumers – enrolled through Healthcare.govfor 2017 during the first four weeks of open enrollment which began Nov. 1st.
According to HHS, 134, 049 North Carolinians are among that number.