SACRAMENTO — One of the most regrettable things insurance agent Amber Lidskin has had to do will soon become a thing of the past and she’s happy about it.
When Ms. Lidskin — an agent for Kuhtz Diel Insurance and Financial Services — would sit down with potential clients to discuss health care insurance packages, she says that sometimes she had to turn many clients away. It was a move Ms. Lidskin was never comfortable with — until the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) came into play.
“People would come to me and say, ‘I need health insurance but I’m self-employed or I don’t have a job but I need it. Can I get it?,’” Ms. Lidskin told The OBSERVER.
“I had to tell them no because they had a preexisting condition. A preexisting condition was the block. No health carrier would take that person. But now, that problem is going away and I am thrilled about that,” she said.
Ms. Lidskin and Amber Choice, also a licensed insurance agent with Kuhtz Diel, have been spreading the gospel around the Sacramento region of how legal residents in California will be eligible to buy health coverage through the ACA law.
In addition, through the state’s health benefit exchange Covered California, Ms. Lidskin and Ms. Choice are ringing the bells to alert small businesses with 50 or fewer employees on how they can offer multiple health plans. Covered California is an independent part of the state government whose job it is to create a new insurance marketplace in which individuals and small businesses can get access to health insurance. Ms. Lidskin and Ms. Choice said the open enrollment starts Oct. 1 and coverage begins Jan. 1, 2014 for businesses with 50 or less employees.
“For the first year, open enrollment is Oct. 1 until Mar. 31, 2014, and then the doors shut,” Ms. Lidskin said. She added that open enrollment won’t roll around again until Oct. 1 – Dec. 7, 2014 for a start date of Jan.1 each year.
The ACA, also known as “Obamacare,” was signed into law on March 2010, by President Barack Obama. It is a comprehensive health reform and the law makes preventive care — including family planning and related services — more accessible and affordable for many Americans. In 2015, Covered California will offer health plans to employers with 100 or less employees for low-cost or no-cost insurance.
Ms. Lidskin and Ms. Choice have been visiting businesses, churches and non-profit organizations in the area to set up seminars to provide the public with more information about how ACA works. Covered California has already selected thousands of doctors and more than 300 of California’s hospitals for access.
For the last three months, several events have taken place to discuss the ACA and what it means. J&L Staffing Services held a forum and panel discussion concerning the new law at the Clarion Inn. The event involved local elected leaders, proprietors, health care advocates, faith leaders and members from the California Black Health Network.
Chet Hewitt, President and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation, shared his insights about ACA during a Health Perspective series at Drexel University-Sacramento in May. The following month, Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee said 5.3 million California residents lack access to affordable health care. But only 2.6 million will qualify while the other 2.6 may benefit from competitive pricing plans through the exchange.
A “California-centric report” used by Covered California also says African Americans make up 4 percent of the projected 2.6 million uninsured, which is the equivalent of about 104,000. Some health experts say that actual number may be as high as 20 percent.
Leaders of the California Black Health Network, who, along with the California NAACP, received a grant to educate California’s African American community about the ACA, have expressed other concerns about the roll out of ACA when it comes to the Black community.
Darcel Lee, executive director of the California Black Health Network, has found that not only are there issues with the numbers, but the materials that are used to educate Californians about the ACA lack diversity.
“It is a little difficult to reach into our community — one that already is not necessarily trusting of providing you with their personal information — and have to go to that community with pamphlets and brochures with pictures of people that don’t look like them.”
Covered California has an $84 million marketing budget and an extra $43 million in federal funding to be spent within two years to educate all Californians about ACA. Ms. Lee said knowing how African Americans will respond to the materials is critical to the work that grantees are doing.
The Executive Director of California Black Media, Regina Wilson, said ignoring the Blacks in the state is a disservice when other communities are reached for other purposes.
“While I understand that some other communities may have language barriers that affect their ability to understand the new law, our community has trust issues with practically anything involving government,” Ms. Wilson said. “I believe that a comprehensive plan is needed with the African American community just as is apparently being designed for other ethnic groups.”
For more information on open enrollment for ACA, call (916) 320-7743 or (916) 287-1677 or visit coveredca.com.
By Antonio Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer