'A brand new day'

'A brand new day'

California leads the way as enrollment for Obamacare picks up steam

By Sheila Mendes-Coleman 01/16/2014

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The New Year dawns with the promise of health care for all, thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, or simply Obamacare for its creator, President Barack Obama. 

It’s been a long legislative road to get where we are now at. The original bill for universal health care was known as the Affordable Health Care for America Act, or House Resolution 3962, introduced in the House of Representatives in October 2009. While HR3962 did not become law in its original incarnation, it was amended in the Senate as HR3590 and reintroduced as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was again amended and then passed by the Senate on Christmas Eve 2009. Three months later, the House agreed with the Senate’s amendment and Obama signed the bill into law on March 23, 2010. 

At an estimated cost of at least $1.6 trillion, the new health care bill hopes to offer more inclusive coverage to previously uninsured and underinsured Americans, and it prevents insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher fees for individuals based on medical histories. 

It also repeals insurance companies’ exemption from anti-trust laws and compels a majority of US employers, with certain exceptions, to provide health care coverage for their employees or pay a surtax on the employees’ wage up to 8 percent. In addition, insurance companies can no longer deny care based on preexisting conditions.

As a consistently working but previously uninsured Californian, I recently made my own foray into the Healthcare.gov Web site to sign up for Obamacare. As soon as I entered my home state, I was redirected to the Covered California Web site. Explanations of coverage provided and insurance options were fairly straightforward and helpful, but I found myself wishing for an operator or a guide who over the phone could walk me through the various choices, which seemed a bit overwhelming at first. I chalk most of this up to the unfamiliarity with the new site. Once I made time to thoroughly read through the many options in heath care coverage, I found the site was relatively easy to navigate. 
Despite the controversy, the cost to the taxpayers and bipartisan divisiveness, the universal health care system may be an imperfect, yet viable option for many who were previously unable to afford health insurance and could increase the quality and length of life for millions of Americans. 

“Before the new law, Americans were priced out or locked out of coverage. Millions more found, unfortunately, when they got sick that their coverage didn’t actually cover their health needs,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement on Jan. 10. “Because of the new Affordable Care Act, it is a brand new day.”

According to Sebelius, nearly 500,000 Californians chose plans through Covered California between Oct. 1 and Dec. 28. 

The Web site itself features a health insurance exchange in which applicants can shop and compare fee schedules and policy types, and offers policies that cannot be canceled or denied — all at an inexpensive price. With four basic levels of health coverage — Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze — applicants have the option of purchasing insurance with lower premiums, but higher co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses on the back end. Higher premiums will result in more complete coverage with less in co-pays and a broader range of choices, while those on the lower end of the economic spectrum may still qualify for Medi-Cal, a no-cost governmental health care program. 

But Obamacare, as it’s come to be known, has faced an uphill battle since it was proposed back in 2009. Mired in controversy since its inception, the bill has been a lightning rod for the right and left. Critics claim Obama has overstepped his bounds with its mandatory enrollment for Americans currently not covered under any health plan, and the resulting fine for noncompliance, and its generous subsidies for the uninsured and underinsured, which have many bristling at the governmental expense in this fragile economy. The Web site itself has experienced myriad technical glitches and much bad press. Accusations of Web site sabotage have been lobbed at the president’s most virulent and vocal opponents. The first few months were a nightmare for those applying, with an outpouring of complaints and frustration due to Web site crashes and the initially cumbersome and confusing application process. 

Additionally, many people who applied found that their existing acceptable coverage was canceled and expressed unhappiness with the choices offered through the Obamacare site. While many of the kinks have been worked out, and thousands of Americans have successfully applied for and received coverage, the jury is still out on whether the process is as streamlined and simplified as it should be.

Although in the case of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, the US Supreme Court on June 28, 2012 upheld the constitutionality of the ACA’s individual mandate as an exercise of Congress’ taxing power, the court ruled that states cannot be forced to participate in the ACA’s Medicaid expansion under penalty of losing their current Medicaid funding.

Since the ruling, the new law has continued to face challenges. But one thing appears certain: In California, the Affordable Care Act is an affordable health care change that people appear ready to embrace.

“Every branch of civil society ... is essentially pushing in the same direction,” said David Simas, an assistant to Obama. “You’re seeing a concerted, statewide effort to make this a success. That’s what you’re seeing in California. You are not seeing that in every place.” 

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