I’m sorry if that once derisive/now descriptive term offends some of us, but it is the term that rings the most bells with most of us. If you prefer “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “Health Benefits Exchange,” “HBE” or the “health insurance mandate,” feel free to substitute your preferred preference, but here’s this week’s “bottom-line:” 11 days from today, this whole thing becomes … real.
That means that, seven days from today (Oct. 1, 2013), people with no health insurance (or crappy health insurance) will be able to get health insurance. That means that, for many of us, we’ll be able to get health care for ourselves and our families. Think about that; so, instead of just rolling the dice, hoping for the best or being known on a first-name-basis by our local emergency room, we could actually have health insurance.
Now, does having health insurance absolutely guarantee that you’ll be able to find a doctor or clinic who will welcome in you and yours with open arms? No. This is Earth: Nothing guarantees anybody anything, but having health insurance will sure-as-heck help you when you’re looking, because something is almost always better than nothing.
So, on Oct. 1, the Washington Health Plan Finder will be operational. The “Health Plan Finder” is a webs site (“portal”) where you will be able to “shop” for health insurance. That means that you will be able to put in some info about you and yours and it will tell you what you might be eligible for in terms of Medicaid or a “Qualified Health Plan.” IF Medicaid, it will help you apply for same. IF a “QHP” (I know, but I’m getting tired of typing “Qualified Health Plan”), it will tell you whether you’re eligible for a subsidy, how much and what QHP’s are available to you, depending upon where you live, tra la.
THEN, you’ll be able to decide (if you’re ready to decide) about which plan, what level (bronze/silver/gold) AND actually purchase or commit, right then and there.
STOP! If you re-read, like I just did, those last two paragraphs above, you might be thinking, “WOW! That’s a lot to understand and decide!” Yes, it is, which doesn’t mean you’re stupid — it means you’re smart, because you’re thinking.
And if you’ve never had health insurance before, so you’re new to things like “copays” and “deductibles” and blah blah, then this could all be a bit overwhelming. Don’t beat yourself up, because we ALL had to learn it somewhere, sometime, so just take a breath and trust that you’ll “get it” — and you will.
So, IF you have a computer, and IF you have internet access and IF you just can’t wait to get this going (and, by the way, I’m not being completely sarcastic, because there are plenty of us with families who are VERY anxious!), you can go to www.wahealthplanfinder.org now and mess around with the “calculator,” to see if you and yours might be eligible for subsidies and get in the ballpark. Can you do the whole shebang, like actually shop and enroll? No, but you can begin to get a “feel” and begin to know what your “ballpark” might look like.
STOP (again)! Do we all have to jump in the middle of this on Tuesday, Oct. 1? No. “Open enrollment” will run through March 31 of next year, but if we want health insurance coverage to be effective on New Year’s Day (Jan. 1, 2014), then we need to get this done by Dec. 31, because that will (a) get us health insurance, and (b) avoid any possibility of any “penalties.”
Now, stop stopping and tell the truth: Some of us, if we’ve even made it this far through this column, are feeling overwhelmed. We may not have a computer or we may not have internet access or we may not feel like we understand any of this and we’re feeling scared/nervous/anxious and STUPID! “What if I get on that web site and don’t understand something and freeze-up and don’t know what to do and … or … ?”
“What if?” Nothing, that’s what. Nothing bad will happen, except that you won’t be able to accomplish what you’d hoped to accomplish, so there will be a number of folks, like us, who will be able to help walk you through this, IF you want help.
Somebody somewhere decided to call us “In-Person Assisters.” (Sigh … Well, Lord KNOWS, I’ve been called worse.) But it isn’t necessary that you remember that. It is necessary that you remember that there are folks who can and will help you. You can call any of the numbers at the end of this column, you can get help through Grays Harbor Public Health, Sea Mar Community Health Centers, the Cowlitz Family Health Center or through Valley View Health Center.
“In-person assisters,” like us, will not try to sell you anything. We won’t tell you which plans to buy or not buy, or what you “should” do. We will help you navigate this thing (if you want help), help you understand what you’re looking at and help you understand what decisions you need to make and what those decisions will mean. Beyond that, it’s your call, because it’s your life. And you won’t have to decide everything at one time, unless you’re ready.
Sometimes, if you’re me (and most of you aren’t), it’s a bit of a relief to stop talking about something and just get on with it!
Let’s get on with it.
Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.