With less than two months until the health insurance marketplace opens up, concern is growing that too many people still have little clue about what the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will mean to them, or how to enroll.
That worry took center stage last week at a meeting between U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard and several of her Bell Gardens constituents, including city officials, members of the chamber of commerce and local health care provider, the Family Health Care Centers of Greater Los Angeles (FHCCGLA), where the meeting was held.
Roybal-Allard discussed some of the options for educating people about ACA, often referred to as Obama Care. But while meeting participants generally agreed with her that more outreach is needed, clinic officials told the congresswoman it has been a struggle to explain the health reform package to their clients.
Making the information easy to understand is a “concern,” said FGCCGLA Chief Marketing Officer Dr. Felix Nuñez.
President Barack Obama signed ACA into law in 2010. The goal of the legislation, which requires everyone to have some level of health insurance or face fines, is to make health care more affordable and accessible to citizens across the country.
States, like California, have put together insurance exchanges that offer varying levels of coverage and premium costs, and for some people, subsidies to help pay for the insurance. Enrollment in California’s Covered California plans open in October; with coverage taking affect Jan. 1, 2014.
The closeness of those deadlines has many in a rush to get more people informed about ACA.
“Come October we need to be ready,” Roybal-Allard emphasized. “Even those that don’t qualify [for subsidies] should know what [the act] is.”
Several in the group said there is a lot of misinformation being spread about the health care act. FHCCGLA Chief Operating Officer Raquel Villa said the clinic’s staff needed more training and education in order to be able to help their patients understand what is going on.
Aware that there is still much confusion out there, Roybal-Allard has been hosting a series of informational workshops where people in her district can learn more and get their questions answered by experts. The district includes the cities of Bell, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Cudahy, South Los Angeles, Vernon and sections of unincorporated East Los Angeles.
Villa said the clinic is considering taking laptops out into the community to do outreach and enrollment.
Bell Gardens Councilman Sergio Infanzon said there is a need to get more information out about how to enroll in a health insurance plan, particularly for those who don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare.
“One [workshop] is not going to be enough,” Infanzon said. “We need to do door-to-door and one-on-ones.”
Dr. Nuñez said that the facility also plans to outreach to schools to get the information out to parents.
He expressed concern, however, as to whether health clinics across the country will be able to keep up with the influx of new patients coming through their doors,
“Currently, a new patient takes one month to be seen by a doctor,” Villa said. “That’s an issue.” How much longer will it take to see a patient after the program gets going, he questioned.
Rep. Roybal-Allard told EGP that she is fighting for more federal funding to help community health centers meet those needs.
“Our community clinics are incredibly important to the health and wellbeing of our community because they service everybody,” Roybal-Allard said.
FHCCGLA President and CEO Dr. Albert Pacheco told EGP that they are collaborating with the city and the Bell Gardens Chamber of Commerce to put on some ACA related events for the public. Chamber Executive Director Carlos Cruz told EGP that his group expects to put together informative seminars regarding health reform for both businesses and consumers some time in late September or early October.
Meanwhile, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard says the public should look at the information sessions as an opportunity to learn more about insurance options.
“Our community really lacks insurance and the health care that they need,” said Roybal-Allard. “They shouldn’t be afraid of this, its just information.”