August 24, 2013

Lawmakers host Affordable Care Act meeting

BY STEPHEN WALL | The Press-Enterprise

A town hall meeting to provide information about the Affordable Care Act turned testy Saturday, Aug. 24, when some audience members became angry at not being able to ask questions about the health care law.

More than 200 people attended the two-hour meeting at the Moreno Valley Conference and Recreation Center.

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, and Assemblymember Jose Medina, D-Riverside, hosted the discussion.

Speakers provided information about health care options for low-income individuals and people without insurance.

The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, requires most Americans older than 18 to have health insurance starting in January or pay a penalty.

Takano said no federal law is perfect, but he disagreed with Republican members of Congress who want to repeal Obamacare.

“My point of view is, ‘Let’s fix it,’” he said.

Dr. Bradley Gilbert, chief executive officer of the non-profit Inland Empire Health Plan, told the audience the Affordable Care Act expands health coverage through Medi-Cal, the state insurance program for low-income seniors, families and disabled people.

Starting Jan. 1, the program will be available to most childless adults under age 65 with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level -- $15,000 a year for an individual and $31,000 a year for a family of four.

As a result of the expansion, more than 250,000 people in Riverside and San Bernardino counties will be able to get health care, Gilbert said.

Riverside County offers an insurance plan to bridge the gap until January for poor people who don’t qualify for Medi-Cal, said Jan Remm, assistant administrator of the Riverside County Health System.

She said about 25,000 people are now covered, including many who are newly unemployed and without health care. Applicants must be ages 19 to 64, live in Riverside County and meet income and other requirements to qualify.

Others may be eligible for health insurance through Covered California, a state-run “marketplace” designed to provide affordable care to individuals and families who aren’t eligible for other plans.

Individuals and businesses will be able to choose from private insurance options.

“The goal is to lower, not raise, the cost of everyone’s insurance,” said John Connolly, associate director of Insure the Uninsured Project, a non-profit health policy research organization dedicated to increasing coverage for California’s uninsured.

About 2.6 million Californians will be eligible for federal financial assistance through the program starting next year. Another 2.7 million who don’t qualify for subsidized care will receive guaranteed coverage, Connolly said.

Following the three presentations, the panelists answered questions that audience members wrote on index cards.

Some in the audience yelled out in an attempt to ask additional questions. They were told panelists had time constraints due to prior engagements.

Rod Drew, a 61-year-old Moreno Valley resident, insisted on being heard. He stood up and asked the panelists how Obamacare will be sustainable, given that millions of Americans are unemployed and can’t afford health care.

“If you’re not making anything, your premiums will be zero,” Drew said after the meeting. “Who’s going to pay your cost? The rest of us.”

Roth told the audience health care costs must be lowered.

“The way to do that is to deliver health care in clinics, not in emergency rooms,” he said.

A written question asked if Obamacare could be tweaked to address employers who reduce workers’ hours to avoid paying for health care.

Medina replied that Assembly Bill 880 was introduced in February to deal with the issue. But the measure did not pass.

Roth and Takano agreed it will be a challenge to convince young Americans to buy insurance rather than pay a penalty.

“It’s the responsible thing to manage your risk,” Takano said. “If you don’t buy health insurance, the rest of society pays for your insurance.”

Medina said he has a 27-year-old son who didn’t go to college and worked for a company that didn’t offer health benefits. Medina said his son will be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

“I think it’s a great moment when we take responsibility for the health of everyone in this country,” he said.


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