Panel discusses coming health care changes in Grand ForksWith many of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act just months away from taking effect, many Grand Forks-area residents still have lingering questions about the law.
By: John Hageman, Grand Forks Herald
With many of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act just months away from taking effect, many Grand Forks-area residents still have lingering questions about the law.
On Thursday night, about 50 of them came to Grand Forks City Hall looking for answers. There, a panel of public health officials and experts broke down the key provisions of the law and took questions from the audience.
The Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health care legislation, was signed in 2010 but will have tangible effects in the coming months. The comprehensive and controversial law, often referred to as Obamacare, is meant to make health care more affordable and accessible.
The law will reach a milestone on Oct. 1, when people will be able to enroll in a plan of their choosing through an online marketplace. The open enrollment period runs until March 31, 2014.
Consumers will be able to search marketplaces, either created by the federal government or individual states that chose to create their own, to shop for and compare private insurance plans, said Brad Gibbens, the deputy director of the Center for Rural Health at UND.
“If you already have insurance, the opening of the marketplace really won’t have an impact on you,” he said before the forum, which was hosted by the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals, Alliance for Healthcare Access and the Grand Forks Public Health Department. “You don’t have to give up your insurance plan and go out on your own and find a new one.”
Minnesota created its own health insurance marketplace, dubbed MNsure, but North Dakota did not.
Mike Fierberg, a public affairs specialist for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said a “scary” amount of misinformation is being spread about the law. Specifically, he said there will be no future effects on Medicare, the program for the elderly and disabled, despite many who seem to think otherwise.
“A fairly high proportion of Medicare beneficiaries think they have to go to the marketplace to buy a replacement policy,” Frieberg said. “Wrong.”
By Jan. 1, most Americans will be required to have health insurance or pay a penalty, and insurance companies will be prohibited from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
Starting in 2015, companies with 50 or more employees will need to either offer coverage to full-time workers or help pay for their costs through the insurance marketplace.
Luther Stueland, director of health policy impact and exchange operations for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, said the law will have varying effects on businesses and individuals based a wealth of factors, including company size and income level. That, combined with the law’s convoluted nature, makes explaining its effects a difficult task.
“I’ve been providing health care reform information to a lot of employer groups, but also to a lot of individual groups like this one for about two years,” Stueland said. “And I’ve had people who have attended two, three, four sessions. Either I’m a very poor communicator or the information is so complex that they learn something new every time.”
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