Affordable Health Care on the Way

David R. Jones, La Nueva Mayoria / The New Majority

About 2.7 million New Yorkers are uninsured.  Many are low- and moderate-income working people who are not offered job-based coverage and cannot afford to buy insurance on their own.  Latinos are the most likely group to be without health insurance coverage.

In some states, insurers reject applicants with past medical problems such as diabetes and hypertension.  New York has long barred this practice and, as a result, has had a very expensive individual insurance market. 

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare,” goes fully into effect next year.  While most people who get their health insurance through their employment or government programs will keep their coverage, for millions of others - who don’t or can’t afford insurance from their employers, or are uninsured and unemployed – the new federal health care reform law is a blessing.

Obamacare will eliminate health-based discrimination by insurance carriers, make health insurance more affordable.  For those with low- and moderate incomes (earning less than $94,200 for a family of four), there will be government subsidies to help pay for insurance.  Contrary to what opponents of the ACA want consumers to believe, nobody is going to go broke being forced to buy insurance under the law.

With the ACA in effect, 1.1 million New Yorkers – many of them Latino residents – are expected to be able to get affordable insurance for the first time.  This will mean better public health, as there will be fewer people walking around ill but too poor to afford a doctor.  Also, there will likely be fewer uninsured people going to hospital emergency rooms when they are ill instead of to a family doctor.  Each year, emergency room costs for treating the uninsured add up to billions of dollars of hidden costs that are shifted to taxpayers, government, and commercial entities.

Federally subsidized health insurance exchanges, or insurance marketplaces, have been set up in 17 states to administer the ACA.  New York is one of them, leading the way in establishing a model Exchange that will make getting health coverage consumer-friendly for the first time.  When New York’s Health Benefit Exchange opens on October 1, 2013, consumers will be able to compare health insurance plans, enroll in Medicaid, or apply for subsidies to buy commercial coverage.  And the state’s small businesses will be able to apply for $220 million in tax credits to provide insurance for their employees.  In some states, Republican governors have refused to set up exchanges, thereby leaving the task to the federal government.

Some people are too poor to afford coverage even with government subsidies.  They were supposed to be covered by a federally financed expansion of Medicaid.  But the Supreme Court, in its decision upholding the constitutionality of the ACA, granted the states the right to opt out of expanding Medicaid.  As a result, in some states where Republican governors have blocked Medicaid expansion, the poorest of the poor will be left without coverage.

Under New York’s Exchange, costs for individual and family coverage will drop by 66 percent; costs for small business coverage will drop by five to 22 percent.  New York has also expanded its Medicaid program to ensure that low-income residents can get coverage.

Governor Cuomo provided a vision for health coverage as well as a model for the rest of the nation.  New York’s Exchange is unique in that it will enroll New Yorkers into public or private coverage depending on their income.  Most importantly, it will make it possible for more New Yorkers to access proper health insurance for themselves and their families.

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