Wednesday marked the kickoff for the ACA open enrollment period and a small crowd gathered at the Overcoming Believers Church (just off McCalla near Nostalgia). Volunteer workers were available to help people sign up for coverage and Mayor Rogero spoke to the gathering as did April Washington, a public affairs specialist working to get people enrolled. She reported that the day this third open enrollment began, which was actually last Sunday, an additional 60,000 people enrolled nationally and 600,000 visited the website. Open enrollment continues through the end of January.*
Ms. Washington gave specific examples of people whose lives were literally saved because they were able to get health care for the first time and have needed major operations. A hair-dresser had open heart surgery to which she would not have had access. A song-writer living in Texas moved home to Tennessee to die with his family. He gained insurance through the ACA and had surgery that saved his life.
I spoke to a small business owner yesterday and got a perspective I’d never considered. I’d heard from opponents of the ACA that it hurt small businesses by forcing them to bear an expense for employee insurance that they cannot afford. While, I do not agree that a person’s health should be considered too much a burden, and I also feel that could be solved if we didn’t have an employer-based health insurance system, I understood the point. Then a small business owner (she owns two shops) told me that without the health coverage offered via ACA, she would not own a business because she would be forced to find a job that offered insurance.
About 150,000 Tennessee residents signed up for the insurance via the federal exchange in the first open enrollment period in 2014. About 230,000 signed up in the 2015 open enrollment period. It is hoped during this, the third open enrollment period that more of the 270,000 uncovered and eligible citizens can be reached. Tennessee’s uninsured rate has fallen from 16.8% in 2013 to 12.9% earlier this year. It’s still high, but much better. Additionally another 320,000 would become eligible if the state accepted Medicare expansion. The decision not to accept that expansion has cost the state an estimated $1.7 trillion, so far. Citations here and here.
Walter Davis of the Tennessee Health Care Campaign told me that a similar effort to this one will be mounted in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties, which includes 30 which did not have such assistance before. It’s hoped this will allow the various groups to enroll more who are eligible but who may not know that or understand how to enroll.
There is a large amount of misinformation that workers must fight as they try to enroll people. It’s a sad fact that those distorting information about the ACA are causing people to continue without insurance, both costing tax payers more money and contributing to poor health and death among those without insurance. Rates have recently gone up on the exchange, for example, but so have subsidies to cover the rate increases. That rarely gets mentioned in news reports.
Also rarely mentioned is the fact that 60% of those enrolled through the exchanges are the working poor. The majority are not unemployed people who need to “get a job.” These are your small business owners and workers, waiters and waitresses, musicians, writers, artists and many others who live on a very slim margin.
There will be another attempt in Tennessee to re-introduce the governor’s proposal for a Tennessee exchange, but chances of its success look very dim. This comes as Kentucky has just elected a governor who has vowed to dismantle their exchange, forcing it’s 400,000 enrolled citizens to move to the federal exchange. I’m not sure how we, as a country or a state, can oppose provision of health care to our citizens, but that seems to be an outrage to certain groups. Ironically these are the groups who most often lament the fact that we are no longer a “Christian” nation. That, I believe would be a nation that followed the teachings of the man who said to help the poor and feed the hungry. But, I digress.
If you need insurance or know someone who does, there are a number of resources available and they are listed below. You’ll notice none of them are sponsored by our state government. It is, apparently, not a priority for them that prior to the ACA nearly a million Tennessee citizens were without insurance.