By Christian Romo / South Kern Sol
BAKERSFIELD – On March 23, 2010 President Barack Obama signed into law a major health care law that is the largest reform to health care in America since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960’s. This new health care reform law also known as Obamacare is formally called the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).” According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Affordable Care Act aims to extend health insurance coverage to about 32 million uninsured Americans by expanding both private and public insurance. The Affordable Care Act is supposed to bring about major changes to the healthcare industry by expanding access to insurance, increasing consumer protections, bringing emphasis to prevention and wellness, improving quality and system performance, and curb rising healthcare costs to millions of Americans. Enrollment starts October 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014.
Though this is could be a great opportunity for people to receive better and more affordable healthcare, many people in South Kern, especially young people, have not heard of the Affordable Care Act.
I went out to Vallarta Market in southeast Bakersfield to find out exactly what people do know about the ACA, and out of a dozen people questioned (ages 21-35), only five have heard of it. Out of the five who have heard of it, only three knew of the benefits they could receive and how to receive them.
Of the dozen people who did have some previous knowledge of the Affordable Care Act, most did not know about a key benefit from the new reform: that young adults may now remain on their parents health insurance until they turn 26. With the Affordable Care Act, young adults can now stay on their parent’s health insurance from the time they turn an adult at 18 until the age of26. Nancy Hernandez, a mother of three was excited to learn that her children could now be part of her insurance until the age of 26, “Wow! I can’t believe that all of that is happening and I didn’t even know about it,” said Hernandez.
It gets better. The law still applies if the young adult is married, is not living with their parents, is not financially dependent on their parents, or if they are eligible to enroll in their employer’s plan, or all of the above.
And children with pre-existing conditions can get insurance now. The Affordable Care Act prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to children due to a medical condition now, and for all adults in 2014.
“I didn’t know there was so much out there for us,” said 21-year-old Esther Angeles. “We all just have to be more aware and take advantage of what is in front of us,” she concluded
Of course this major benefit of the Affordable Care Act is the one that most young adults are knowledgeable and excited about. Another important benefit is that with the reform, insurance companies are no longer permitted to have a “maximum cap” where no more coverage will be given to the patient after a certain cost.
Also with the Affordable Care Act, Medi-Cal will be expanded. That means that most low income individuals will now receive Medi-Cal including adults without children. This opens up a window of opportunity for many residents here in South Kern. Not only will more people be able to access health services, the Affordable Care Act also guarantees individuals that preventative checkups will be free. With all these great benefits provided by the Affordable Care Act, individuals as well as the community as a whole can become healthier.
Making people aware is one of the major issues getting these benefits to the people. People must know their rights and take advantage of the resources available to them. I asked Pete Perez, why he thinks people of South Kern are not enrolling into these programs and he says, “It’s probably because we don’t know that they are even out there and if we do know we don’t know how to get [access to] it. How am I supposed to know about this stuff if no one is talking about it?”
Carmen Burgos, Project Manager for Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance (GBLA) encourages people to sign up for a health plan available to Kern County residents now, which will automatically transition into Medi-Cal, “Adults between the ages of 19-64 with an income of under $1274 who have no coverage now can enroll in the Low Income Health Plan/Kern Medical Center Health Plan now. They will be transitioning automatically into Medi-Cal in 2014.”
“This is very important for single individuals, students and other individuals who have no coverage because if they enroll now, they will have nothing to worry about come January 2014, since they will be insured through Medi-Cal. Additionally, if they enroll now they can start seeing a doctor once approved,” adds Burgos.
There is some controversy with some parts of the Affordable Care Act and much of that is the issue with the insurance mandates. By the year 2014 the Affordable Care Act requires that all individuals must have health insurance or face a fine, excluding those who are exempt.
According to Burgos, individuals exempt from the mandate are:
1) Individuals who cannot afford coverage (buying insurance would cost more than 8% of their salary)
2) Individuals with household income below $9750 in 2012
3) Members of federally recognized Indian Tribes
4) Individuals who experience a short coverage gap (3 months)
5) Members of certain religious sects
6) Incarcerated individuals
7) Individuals who are not lawfully present
Also, businesses are now required to cover their employees or face a fine, with the exception of some small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
But no matter what your opinion is on the insurance mandate on businesses and individuals, the bottom line is that the Affordable Care Act offers a wide array of great new opportunities for young people, and millions of other adults.
The Affordable Care Act gives us the chance to be able to receive proper medical care for an affordable price, and this should be something everyone should be able to access.
Kern County residents can call Kern Health Consumer Center/GBLA with any questions at (661) 321-3982. People are also encouraged to visit the following websites for additional information: