Drangstveit: Clearing up the confusion related to health insurance (column)
If housing is the biggest crisis facing Summit County families, health insurance is the silent killer. It would be hard to miss the double-digit premium increases all of us have endured over the last four years. Beginning with this year’s health insurance enrollment period, we are faced with more questions, concerns and confusion than ever before.
As a resource center for the community, the Family Intercultural Resource Center would like to help reel in the misunderstandings and present you with some of the facts and options. The facts are these: The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, still exists and has not been repealed. Summit County continues to have some of the highest monthly premiums in the country. Many in Summit County will see a 37 percent increase in their health insurance premiums this year. Fourteen percent of residents in Summit County are uninsured, which is double the statewide average.
Despite the disturbing nature of these statistics, there are some lesser known facts. Summit County has very high numbers of people who are eligible for low-cost health insurance plans through Medicaid or premium discounts who are not enrolled. Communities that have high numbers of people who don’t take advantage of these low-cost options also tend to have higher premiums. For a family of four making under $98,000 a year you can get health insurance for $450 a month. Moreover, a family of four making under $70,000 can get health insurance for $189 per month and a family of four making under $33,000 can qualify for Medicaid, which is $0 a month. The fact is that for many in Summit County relief is available for people who take the time to explore their options.
FIRC is available to help people enroll in health insurance plans, determine if you qualify for discounts and understand available options. Many local insurance brokers provide valuable information and can help people sign up for insurance plans, as well. For people who qualify for Medicaid, Summit County Health and Human Services is a great resource.
We have to recognize that our small business community, and many families who make more than 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level will continue to significantly struggle to afford health insurance through Marketplace plans. I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the significant efforts that some of our community leaders have undertaken to try and bring about true long-term relief.
We are very lucky that people like Paul Chodkowski, the president and CEO of St Anthony Summit Medical Center, have taken steps to reduce the charges for certain services at the hospital; County Commissioner Dan Gibbs and State Representative Millie Hamner have spent countless hours trying to pass legislation at a state level to provide premium relief. The Summit Foundation, led by board president Mark Spiers, has invested funding to support programs that may provide innovative solutions and CEO Helen Royal and her team at the Summit Community Care Clinic have worked tirelessly to provide a safety net for those who can’t afford insurance or are underinsured. We have also had some support from insurance companies such as Kaiser Permanente that are working to find new ways to provide more affordable insurance.
Without these efforts, the terrible situation that we find ourselves in could be far worse. Particularly when solutions from federal and state government appear hopeless, we must turn our focus to local efforts in order to have a true impact on this crisis. Over the next few weeks, some of the leaders with the ability to impact local solutions will share their thoughts with you. In the meantime, a local solution begins with making sure that everyone maximizes every discount and program that is available now. During this open enrollment period educate yourself on the real facts and don’t make assumptions based on speculation.
Tamara Drangstveit is the executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center in Summit County. She also served as a citizen member of the Summit Daily editorial board.
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