Representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services and other health organizations led an information session on Monday in an attempt to chip away at public misconceptions about the federal Affordable Care Act.
The session, which was also attended by representatives from Western Maine Opportunity Alliance, provided students and community members with assistance enrolling in the new health care plans. Few students were in attendance since, as event speaker Jake Grindle of Western Maine Community Action noted, most students are covered by either their parents’ or the school’s health insurance. Still, USM’s high non-traditional student population kept the discussion immediately relevant to USM.
Graduate biology student Jennifer Miller attended the event and praised it as “very helpful.” She did, however, admit reluctance to signing up for the program at this time, as she is planning on moving out of state following graduation in the spring.
Grindle believes that the biggest issue people have with the ACA is misinformation spread by the media. Grindle said that some people believed that they would be arrested if they didn’t purchase health insurance or forced into purchasing something they couldn’t afford.
“People have heard so many different things and conflicting things that the problem is more that they don’t know what is true and what isn’t true,” Grindle said, following a public presentation on the nuts and bolts of the ACA at Masterton Hall last Monday, at which he was the primary speaker. “[People] just kind of throw their hands up and say ‘I don’t know what this is…every different radio station and TV channel says something different than the last one,’”
For many people enrolling in the ACA, their health insurance premiums have gone down. According to Grindle, over 21,000 Mainers have signed up for ACA-sponsored insurance, and over 90 percent have seen a decrease in premiums or received tax breaks.
Coverage under the ACA is broken into three tiers: Bronze, Silver and Gold coverage, with differing premiums and protection levels in each. Even at the most basic levels of “Bronze” coverage, however, no person will spend more than $6,300 per year out of pocket.
Some people have heard about a potential fine for not signing up for provisions in the ACA. While this is true, the fine is only $95 and has many provisions to protect people from it, such as people whose religion disallows them from having insurance, or people who fall below the federal poverty line. People who would have been protected under a federal subsidy doubling Maine’s state health insurance provider, MaineCare, also will not be penalized.
Christie Hager, the regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services reminded the audience that Governor Paul LePage rejected federal doubling of Mainecare, which was offered to all 50 states under the Affordable Care Act. Maine and New Hampshire are the only New England states that did not accept the subsidy.
Hager then enumerated benefits which the ACA has already had for Maine’s population. “More than 400,000 Mainers [are] protected from lifetime limits, preventing people from losing their insurance coverage when they need it most,” Hager said.
She also said that over 300,000 people in Maine alone have received completely free preventative services, like vaccines, under the ACA.
One of the lesser-known ACA provisions is “catastrophic coverage,” available for people under 30, to protect them in case of a major injury or disease diagnosis.
Open enrollment for ACA provisions ends on March 31.