Local residents and business owners got a brief rundown on the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s new law that enacts significant changes to the federal healthcare system. Fifth District Long Beach City Councilmember Gerrie Schipske moderated a public forum about the law at Houssels Forum at Long Beach Memorial Hospital on Monday, April 15.
The event, organized by Schipske, Long Beach Memorial, Cal State Long Beach’s Department of Health Care Administration and the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, provided presentations from California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Region IX Director Herb K. Schultz.
Full implementation of the new law, officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014, when most United States citizens will be required to get health insurance. Most residents and business owners, however, still have a vague understanding of the new mandates, healthcare officials stated. At the forum of roughly 100 attendees, only a handful of people raised their hands when asked if they have a complete knowledge of the new law.
Schultz, who works for the United States government’s principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, called the forum in Long Beach a “call to action” to prepare for upcoming mandates.
Schipske added that, “It’s probably one of the most significant pieces of healthcare legislation we’ve had in this country since the initiation of Medicare, and, because of it, there are going to be substantial changes in this country in terms of getting affordable, accessible, quality health care.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were just under 50 million people in the U.S. without health insurance in 2010. A video produced by the Kaiser Foundation presented at the forum stated that many who have insurance plans can only afford “bare-minimum policies” that may not cover much at all, adding that the current system has led to a strain on the federal budget and higher premium costs as the country’s population continues to age.
The new healthcare regulatory policy, however, aims to increase health-insurance coverage for Americans and lower overall costs of health care in the country, while competition among insurers is expected to keep rates competitive, the video states.
Schultz said that, by Oct. 1 of this year, people will be able to apply for programs that provide assistance aimed at lowering coverage costs as an alternative to receiving insurance through an employer.
Under the new law, individuals with their families and those who work for “small employers,” defined as having under 50 employees, will have access to getting health insurance through a newly expanded Medi-Cal program or through a new “marketplace” in which individuals will be able to receive tax credits to assist in paying monthly health-insurance premiums for “out of pocket” expenses.
Jones said the new healthcare law is constructed in a way that will not only allow more people to receive health insurance and make sure they receive care earlier, but will also reduce the “cost share” associated with those who pay for insurance and state and federal governments often having to cover the costs for services provided to people without insurance.
In California, it is estimated there are about 7 million citizens currently without health insurance, he said. Under the new law, however, it is estimated that about 1.6 million to 1.9 million Californians, who have incomes of $15,000 or less, will be eligible for expanded Medi-Cal, while another 2 million to 3 million uninsured Californians will get healthcare coverage through Covered California, a health benefits exchange offered in the state. He added, however, that the Affordable Care Act does not provide any coverage for undocumented individuals.
Karen Stahl, 71, a former Signal Hill resident who now lives in Huntington Beach, said she learned a lot during the presentation and “partially” had her questions answered. Stahl added, however, that she’s still in the dark on many subjects.
“I’m from Orange County, and I don’t know of any clinics that will take you in for free,” Stahl said. “The presentations were good, the videos were good, but I still think we’re maybe a little bit in La-La Land.”