26 Sep Obamacare Brings Promise of a Healthier South L.A.
By Toni Ann Johnson
Aneiko Hickerson of Compton is one of the estimated 48.6 million Americans who are currently uninsured. They stand to benefit significantly in the coming months as the new health care law, the Affordable Care Act, is fully implemented.
Hickerson, who has been uninsured for the past two years, lost her Kaiser health coverage after being laid off. Initially she got her health coverage extended through COBRA, which mandates by law that employers provide temporary extended group health coverage after an employee leaves or loses a job. But former employees pay the cost, and for Hickerson, COBRA was too expensive. She decided to re-enroll with Kaiser because the rates were actually better, but was denied.
“They denied me coverage for the pre-existing condition that they had been treating me for [when I was employed],” said Hickerson, who appealed and was denied again. “I was shocked and totally frustrated. Kaiser had been covering me and treating me for the very same condition that they then used as the basis for a denial of coverage. It made no sense to me.”
Hickerson, who declined to describe her condition, hasn’t been able to see a doctor regularly since.
“I couldn’t really manage my condition,” she said. “I did the best I could just to take care of myself generally: eat right, rest, etc. But the impact has been huge in that my health has continued to suffer, which then makes every other area of my life difficult.”
Because Hickerson needs to see specialists and get diagnostic tests — which she cannot afford on her own — she has been waiting for the new health care law to be implemented so that she can once again get the care she needs.
Fortunately, she won’t have to wait much longer. The ACA, also known as Obamacare, will be fully implemented on Jan. 1. Enrollment for different programs featured in the law begins Oct. 1.
“The law is creating an opportunity for people to enroll in a newly expanded Medicaid (called Medi-Cal in California) program, in which eligibility will be based solely on income,” said Dr. Gerald Kominski, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. “For people who have incomes above the threshold for Medi-Cal eligibility, it will provide subsidies to buy insurance in the new exchange, which is called ‘Covered California.’”
The law will help people throughout the lower and middle income spectrum, said Nina Vaccaro, executive director of Southside Coalition of Community Health Centers in Los Angeles.
“For the first time, we will be making free, low cost and affordable health care insurance options available for a large portion of South L.A. residents, many of whom have never had health insurance,” Vaccaro said. “There is also a large sector of the uninsured who do have jobs, but no employer based coverage and insurance premiums are so high that they are unaffordable. This is truly a significant opportunity for the middle class” as well to get coverage.
As of Oct. 1, Hickerson will be eligible to apply for health insurance coverage through Covered California, which allows people whose incomes are too high for Medi-Cal to purchase insurance through an exchange and receive “Premium Assistance” to help pay for it.
“I and my family are excited to have a chance to better my health, and thus better my life. It’s hard to be in your 30s with young children but have more physical and health complaints than your grandparents,” Hickerson said.
Insurance companies will also be prohibited from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, welcome news for Hickerson. “I feel like this is how things should have been a long time ago,” she said.
Since Obama signed the ACA, young adults have enjoyed the benefit of remaining covered under their parents’ policies until they turn 26. When the law is fully implemented, young adults in California’s foster care system, many of whom reside in South Los Angeles, will be able to remain on Medi-Cal until age 26 as well.
“When I was in foster care, they would extend your health care until you were 26 as long as you were in school,” said Melissa Chadburn, a professional writer living in L.A. “But the ACA will allow foster youth, regardless of whether or not they’re enrolled in school full time, to receive health care. But more importantly, low-income people will no longer receive disparate treatment.”
Experts and advocates also see health benefits and potentially transformative effects for the entire community.
Kominski believes the general health of South L.A. residents will improve as a higher percentage of people have regular insurance benefits over the next 10-20 years. “I think that also translates to a healthier population, which translates into a healthier workforce,” he said.
Jim Mangia, president of St. John’s Well Child & Family Center, anticipates that Obamacare will also bring significantly more health care jobs to South L.A., helping to improve the economic status of many residents who will fill these stable, career-path positions. “We’re going to see a more substantial amount of economic development as a result of improving public health,” Mangia said.
Johnson is an award-winning screenwriter, author and activist in South L.A.