By Bruce A. Smith
Today is the first day to register for Obamacare, known to pundits and bureaucrats as the Affordable Care Act. This historic moment is occurring at the same time as the federal government shuts down over a budgetary dispute triggered by right-wing opposition to the national health care program.
However, Obamacare, along with Social Security and other “safety net programs” like food stamps, are immune to the shutdown as they have received prior, non-negotiable funding.
Hence, people are deluging Obamacare hotlines today to get health care coverage, and as of 1:30 pm this afternoon the computers crashed at Washington Healthcare Finders, the primary local clearing house for questions about Obamacare and the place to register for medical insurance.
As a result of the jam-up, many public officials engaged in the enrollment process were happy to talk about Obamacare with inquisitive journalists.
Lori Culver, the Executive Director of the Eatonville Family Agency who held a public information forum last week on Obamacare, gave the Mountain News a substantive overview of the program.
Despite the political uproar, it seems that Obamacare will really impact only a handful of people. Most folks who have medical insurance will continue with their current health providers. Some details may change in terms of premiums, benefits and costs, but not critically.
The big change is for Washington residents who do not have medical insurance or the money to buy any coverage. These citizens will now be enrolled in a state program called “Medicaid Expansion,” which is an enlarged version of the old Medicaid, which was basically Medicare for kids and the disabled.
Essentially, Obamacare is Medicaid.
However, the administration of Medicaid is being totally revamped to deliver a broader level of state assistance.
To begin, the Medicaid program is being moved from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and placed in another state agency, the Health Care Authority (HCA). This second agency is not wholly new, as it was the organization that managed the health care plans of state workers.
In addition, the HCA has “re-branded” Medicaid and is calling its new program “Apple Health.”
All states have this expanded Medicaid feature, and many are giving their programs a regional flavor.
According to Jim Stevenson, an official at the HCA, Wisconsin is called their program “Badger Care,” and Georgia is naming their Medicaid expansion, “Peach Care.”
As for Washington’s Apple Care, it will handle the distribution of medical benefits to about 1.5 million Washington residents.
Stevenson told the Mountain News that about 1.2 million Washingtonians are presently enrolled on the DSHS Medicaid program, and two-thirds of this group are children, about 800,000 kids. Hence, about 400,000 adults are currently on Medicaid and will be automatically transferred to Apple Care, along with the young ‘uns.
Stevenson said that an additional 328,000 new adults, aged 19-65, will be enrolled on Apple Care, as well. Essentially, this will be the new group of Washington citizens receiving Obamacare. Their medical benefits will parallel those currently available under the DSHS Medicaid program, and will be free to those who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty limit, which is about $15,000 per year in income for an individual or about $25,000 for a three-person family.
Stevenson characterized Apple Care as medical coverage for the “poorest of the poor.”
People making more than these minimums will be eligible for insurance premium subsidies. Stevenson called this secondary group the “working poor” – folks who make too much money for a totally subsidized package of care.
Stevenson also said that Washington currently has about 800,000-1,000,000 additional uninsured citizens. He said the HCA expects about half of this group to receive medical coverage through some expansion of medical insurance at work or via a tax credit subsidy.
Actual medical benefits under Obamacare begin January 1, 2014, and Washingtonians can register for Apple Care and the other programs until March 31, 2014.
For more information on Obamacare, or to register, call or contact:
360.688.7700 or 1. 855. 923. 4633
Addendum, 10. 1. 13
The following information has been provided by Richard Smaby of the Pierce Progressive website.
109,000 Pierce County residents do not have health insurance. 54% of them are estimated to be eligible for the Medicaid expansion. 80% are eligible for tax credits to reduce their cost for health insurance. Those of the 109,000 not eligible for Medicaid need to buy insurance from private insurers. These are the same insurers as before, except they are more tightly regulated and purchasing through the exchange may provide a subsidy for the individual.