When the Affordable Care Act was enacted on Oct. 1, requiring nearly everyone to have some sort of health insurance coverage or suffer a penalty, many questioned how the program worked. Others who wanted to sign up for a health care plan had trouble accessing a government website to do so.
In order to alleviate concerns, the St. Charles Community Health Center is trying to give local residents the information they need to come to an informed decision on the new health care standards.
Vondel Sylvan, navigation specialist with the health center, said their goal is to provide information on how the Affordable Care Act affects area residents.
“Basically it is just us getting the information out and then letting the consumers make informed decisions. We want to make sure everyone is educated on it,” she said.
That involves many of those who have been seeking to enroll in new health care plans, but have been struggling with the federal government’s online health insurance market at healthcare.gov.
Sylvan said the organization has been providing direct assistance through five on-site counselors in their Norco clinic and three in their Luling clinic.
“We have been assisting just about everywhere we go and providing applications if you can’t get through (on the website). I want to say that there has been 200 consumers we have actually assisted,” she said.
In addition to educating the public, Sylvan said counselors also help residents sign up for a health care plan.
“We do two attempts online and if we can’t get through we send a paper application. We fill it out for whomever comes in and we mail it in,” she said.
Sylvan said although she has heard about many positive experiences, she has also heard from those in opposition to the Affordable Care Act health plans.
“I am getting very mixed reviews. Some people are very excited because they have not had the opportunity to have affordable insurance and they see that they are going to qualify for some of the subsidies and tax credits,” she said. “We are now getting a handful who feel they have been negatively affected.”
Hahnville resident Bob Arena, 71, was one of those who attended the Norco clinic to seek assistance from a counselor.
Arena said he learned a lot about what he and his wife’s health care options are.
Bob and Daphne Arena retired on the same day about a year and half ago. Bob has been on Medicare since retiring as a sales manager at a car dealership, but Daphne, 63, is not yet eligible for Medicare.
Bob said he felt the two had saved properly for retirement, but when faced with the high cost of Daphne’s health insurance, the two decided to take a chance.
After Daphne’s supplemental employer-provided insurance ran out earlier this year, they opted to not purchase health insurance coverage.
“I spent a month hunting for an opportunity to get us some type of coverage to fill the gap before hand,” he said.
But they could not find an insurer who would accept Daphne due to her diabetes diagnosis.
“They pretty much told us they weren’t handling it and they weren’t doing it,” Bob said.
After Bob and Daphne received counseling from the St. Charles Community Health Center,they were able to get a good idea of what type of plan Daphne would be eligible for under the Affordable Care Act.
“They were able to help us get through that and we pretty much have a good idea of what direction we want to go in although we don’t know what it is going to cost,” Bob said.
However, until they are eligible to receive the new health care benefits on Jan. 1 that do not allow insurers to take into account pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, the Arenas are hoping no major health problems arise.
Sylvan said she understands those who are against the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but she said the law clears up a basic problem in the American health care system.
“Every time someone without insurance goes to the emergency room and they don’t pay their bill, we pay it because our prices go up,” she said. “Treating people without insurance results in a price increase. Let’s hold people accountable. I don’t see a problem with that. Let’s make everyone accountable to pay their bills.”