Maywood Residents Grapple With the Affordable Care Act, Massive Misconceptions

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The Think Community Summit. Saturday, November 23, 2013. Click for more info.

By Michael Romain

THURSDAY, MAYWOOD — Maywood resident Ricky Johnson worked off and on for his employer for twenty years, but that didn’t stop the company from canceling his health insurance. This partly explains his front-row seat inside Village chambers at Thursday night’s Get Covered Illinois informational session sponsored by the Proviso Mental Health Commission. Get Covered is essentially Illinois’s iteration of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also popularly known as Obamacare. About five other residents were scattered throughout the chambers to listen to Brandon Dismukes and Elizabeth Fasanya, two ACA navigators (or in-person assistors) with Healthcare Alternative Systems, answer questions and clear the manufactured confusion surrounding the new law.

“I’m just looking for some clarity, because I’m hearing so much stuff,” said Johnson.

Mixed in with that stuff may have been claims, widely cited in various media outlets, that his employer dropped him because of Obamacare. According to a Forbes article published in September of this year, “Obamacare is going to kill traditional employer-provided insurance.” What the article doesn’t state is that the traditional employer-provided insurance model may have been dying before Obamacare was even implemented.

According to the National Institute for Healthcare Reform (NIHR),”Between 2007 and 2010, the share of children and working-age adults in the United States with employer-sponsored health insurance dropped 10 percentage points from 63.6 percent to 53.5 percent, according to a new national study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC). The key factor driving the sharp decline was the enormous loss of employment during the Great Recession, which officially started in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. The proportion of the population younger than 65 with no workers in the family spiked 10 percentage points between 2007 and 2010, from 21.6 percent to 31.6 percent. The decline in employer coverage disproportionately affected young adults, people with a high school education or less, and people employed in small firms.”

(Graph) Nonelderly Americans with Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance

The NIHR report goes on to note, “Well before the start of the recession, a steady decline of employer health coverage was underway with fewer firms offering coverage and fewer workers taking up coverage—likely because of rising health care costs.” This was one of the very reasons why the President wanted to reform healthcare in the first place.

According to an article published last month by Daily Kos, employers and insurers may be using the ACA as a smokescreen to amplify activity, such as “hiking employee contributions, raising deductibles [and] dropping spousal coverage,” that’s been going on for years. In a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and subsequently reported by the Washington Post, the data demonstrates that, between 1999 and the present, there’s been a steady, pronounced increase in both the cost of health insurance premiums and the amount that workers contribute to those premiums.

(Graph) Cumulative Increases in Health Insurance Premiums

The bare reality of the matter is that many employers have increasingly transferred the burden of healthcare costs from themselves to their employees–people like Ricky Johnson–and they see Obamacare as an opportunity to completely unburden themselves of employee healthcare costs while also transferring the blame for this happening to the government. It’s the job of navigators like Dismukes and Fasanya to cut through this kind of corporate bait-and-switch.

“The media is going to put a spin on everything to get ratings,” said Dismukes, before sharing some of the propaganda that he’s encountered on the job. Navigators are responsible for persuading people to get healthcare and helping them through the enrollment process. Dismukes said he meets with people one-on-one at Starbucks and McDonalds–wherever they’re most comfortable–at help them find policies most suitable for their needs.

“I’ve heard people say that as soon as you get on the website, you get kicked off instantly,” he said, referring to healthcare.gov, the website that was supposed to administer national enrollment before malfunctioning.

“But that’s true only after maybe the first attempt and it’s due to the fact that millions of people are trying to get on to the website. Right now, the glitches are fixed.”

Media misinformation seems only one aspect of the mass distortion surrounding the ACA. He’s also encountered people impersonating as navigators, who are required to be trained and licensed before they begin dispensing information or assisting with enrollment. He said that impersonators have various ulterior motives that range from identity theft to helping aldermen and mayors get votes.

“I even ran into one of these people at a church,” he said.

Despite the rampant misinformation and deception, Disbukes insisted that the new law nonetheless seems to be resonating with the people who most need it.

“As an African-American, I can say that we’ve embraced it, because a lot of [African-Americans] I encounter aren’t insured. Whether it’s the younger generation or the 30-55 year olds, they all embrace it […] This is something they really want to take advantage of,” he said.

Johnson is one of them. Since losing his employer-based insurance, he’s interested in weighing his options. Not only is he no longer insured, but he also has two adult children who live with him in need of insurance as well. It’s precisely this category of uninsured Americans, healthy adults under 30, on whom the ACA is most dependent for its success. The healthy and the young will need to enroll in order to offset the cost-pull of the sick and aged–the demographic for which healthcare, and health insurance, is most expensive.

As of late, however, the young and healthy have proven particularly difficult to enroll. An article in the Huffington Post suggested that low enrollment levels among the young and healthy is a national problem.

“In California, the state with the largest uninsured population, most of those who applied were older people with health problems. In Kentucky, nearly 3 of 4 enrollees were over 35. In Washington state, about 23 percent of enrollees were between 18 and 34. And in Ohio, groups helping with enrollment described many of those coming to them as older residents who lost their jobs and health coverage during the recession.”

Virtually everyone in the tiny audience that Dismukes was addressing was over 40. But Dismukes himself seemed optimistic. For his part, he’s taken to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in order to reach out to his peers. After all, he knows personally the benefits of a health insurance system that is more humane than profit-driven. He’s under 26 and still eligible for insurance based on his parent’s plan. 

“If I wasn’t insured, I’d be like, ‘Oh God, what am I going to do?” said Dismukes. VFP

For more information on how you can get covered, visit Get Covered Illinois’s website.

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