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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
People fill the seats at the downtown library for Thursday night’s meeting on the Affordable Care Act.

Panel prepares library crowd for Obamacare

Meeting details what to expect, where to get help

Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, right, is joined Thursday on the panel by, from left, Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, attorney Doug Powers and Mary Haupert, president and CEO of Neighborhood Health Clinics.

Ready or not, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will begin open enrollment Oct. 1 for insurance coverage that starts Jan. 1.

“We will have glitches; I don’t think there’s anybody who pretends that that won’t happen,” employment benefits compliance attorney Doug Powers of the law firm Beckman Lawson said Thursday at a town-hall meeting on the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m hopeful this will be successful ultimately, but we will have some bumps in the road,” Powers said at the downtown Allen County Public Library, where most of the 230 seats were filled.

Despite confusion and political fighting, “the law is here, and it is here to stay, and we have to do what we can to try to make it work,” said Paul Chase, an official for Covering Kids and Families of Indiana, a sponsor of the forum.

To that end, forum panelists cited various resources for insurance enrollment information, including the government toll-free phone number 800-318-2596, the website www.healthcare.gov and the Kaiser Family Foundation at www.kff.org.

Mary Haupert, CEO of the nonprofit Neighborhood Health Clinics, said her organization along with Community Action of Northeast Indiana and the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program of Allen County will provide insurance enrollment sites, assistance, community outreach and marketing. Enrollment lasts until March 31.

Panelists praised key benefits of the health care law, including mandatory coverage of people with pre-existing medical conditions, allowing adult children to stay on their parents’ policies until they are 26 years old and rebates if an insurer doesn’t spend at least 80 percent of its premium dollars on medical care. Powers said he recently received a rebate for $403.

Dr. Deborah McMahan, the city-county health commissioner, favors the provision for covering preventive care, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, at no cost to many new customers of health insurance.

“Our numbers aren’t very high” for screenings, she said. “ … The only way it really helps is if we take advantage of these different services.”

Some of the questions were about the costs of the Affordable Care Act. Who pays?

“All of us,” Powers responded, noting the law is funded by about 30 taxes.

But “we will be able to compare apples to apples on these (insurance) exchanges, and theoretically the costs ought to go down because we have a more competitive field,” he said.

State Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said, “We need to think about the money we are going to be saving” if the law results in healthier people and workers.

Haupert said, “It is going to cost more; it is going to be spread among more people.”

But Rep. Matthew Lehman, R-Berne, chairman of the House Insurance Committee, said a delay until 2015 on the large-employer insurance mandate will postpone fines for noncompliance.

“That’s potentially billions of dollars that aren’t going to be collected now while the services are being rendered,” he said.

McMahan’s take: “We spend a lot money now on health care; I think we should be a little disappointed in the results we’re getting.”

Still unresolved is whether the state government will expand Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people.

Other sponsors of Thursday’s forum were the faith-based HealthVisions of Fort Wayne and the Indiana Minority Health Coalition.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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