It's August. Congress is in recess, and that means your representatives and senators are hitting the home turf. With just two months until the Obamacare marketplaces open, across the country elected leaders are either talking up or trashing the Affordable Care Act. In the Bay Area, you can bet it will be the former.
So when Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) spoke at Oakland's La Clinica de la Raza on Monday, she was full of praise for the health law. She recapped the reforms already in effect and then listed health insurance changes coming Jan. 1: no more denials for pre-existing conditions, no more lifetime limits on coverage, women can no longer be charged more than men of the same age.
Then she got to the heart of her message: People need to sign up. "It's critical we tell California to take advantage" of these changes, Boxer said. People should become "ambassadors" for the health law, she continued. Because of California's huge population -- 38 million -- and large number of uninsured -- 7 million -- the state is critical to the success of the health law. "Everything we do here is important for the whole nation," Boxer said.
A quick review of some stats: On Jan. 1, most people will need to have health insurance or pay a fine, and subsidies are available for people who cannot afford it. About half of Californians uninsured and eligible for benefits under the health law are 18 to 35 years old, the so-called young invincibles. This young population tends to be healthier, and they're needed in the insurance pool to spread risk -- to offset the high costs of people who are sick. About half of those eligible for subsidies are Latino
Jane Garcia, CEO of La Clinica de la Raza, noted a need to "create a culture of insurance" in this young population. La Clinica is a community health center with 32 sites in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties. It's "going to be a challenge," she said, to get people to pay for insurance when many of the people they serve already get health care for free at one of La Clinica's sites.
La Clinica has already subtly shifted some of its terminology to get people on board. They no longer serve "patients," Garcia said. Patients are now "members." The organization has been awarded large grants to help educate people and get them to sign up for insurance. "It won't happen overnight," she said, but it's "in their best interest to make sure we stay healthy and well."
She spoke of a need to get people to think about health insurance the way they think about car insurance. Boxer agreed and was largely optimistic. "Once young people see the advantages, just as they do when they get auto insurance, they wouldn't think twice about getting behind the wheel without insurance. I think we're going to be OK."