Citizens question officials about new health care law at Edmonds town hall meeting

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Those answering question from the public about the new health care law in Washington were, from left: Rep. Eileen Cody, Chair, House Health Care and Wellness Committee; Reps. Mary Helen Roberts and Marko Liias, 21st District representatives and Dr. Gary Goldbaum, Snohomish Health District.

While there has been significant publicity about glitches in accessing health insurance plan information at the national level, Washington State’s own system is performing well, with more than 100,000 residents signed up so far. That’s the word from elected officials who spoke about state implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) during a town hall meeting at Swedish/Edmonds hospital Tuesday night.

21st Legislative District representatives Marko Liias and Mary Helen Roberts were joined by Eileen Cody, chair of the House Health and Wellness Committee and Dr. Gary Goldbaum of the Snohomish Health District to answer citizen questions about the new health care market in Washington state. Approximately a dozen citizens attended.

“Health care is important,” said Liias as the meeting opened, “but navigating the new system can be tough, especially for non-English speaking people or those not comfortable with technology. But despite what you hear nationally, I’m happy to report that the technical problems that are rampant in other areas of the country are not a factor here. The Washington State system is working great.”

“Most people who sign on to the Washington health plan finder site (www.wahealthplanfinder.org) complete the process in about 15 minutes,” Roberts added. “Since the state health exchange opened on Oct. 1, more than 100,000 Washingtonians have signed up, with more coming on every day. But some people are still having problems or holding back, so tonight we’re here to answer questions and provide information on how to do it.”

One citizen asked about alternative methods of signing up for those who lack access to computers or the necessary skills to use them. The answer: a toll-free number where help is available in 175 different languages. Just call 1-855 WAFINDER (1-855-923-4633) and you’ll be able to talk to a representative who will walk you through the process or direct you to a local in-person help center where you can get one-on-one help from a trained professional. With 18 help centers in Snohomish County, there’s sure to be one close to you, officials noted.

Another questioner was confused about the costs under the exchange, noting that some people end up paying more that they were under their previous individual plans.

“In the majority of cases this is because the new plan covers more than the old one did,” Cody responded. “For example, most of the old plans didn’t cover prescription drugs, but all the plans on the exchange do. So you’re getting more comprehensive coverage, but yes, in some cases this will cost a little more.”

Concern was also expressed about scam websites that appear to be legitimate but direct users to a certain health plan or worse, collect credit card and other information to use for identity theft.

All the presenters stressed that when you’re online, be sure you’re on the correct website: www.wahealthplanfinder.org. One spoof website, washingtonhealthplanfinder.org, has fooled a number of applicants.

“So make sure its “wa”, not “washington”!” Cody said.

Other questions ranged from pre-existing conditions to dental plans to necessary income levels to qualify for assistance.

Liias concluded the meeting with a look to the future. “We’ve taken the necessary first step,” he said. “The ACA now ensures that everyone who is sick gets health care.

“But the future challenge will be keeping our citizens healthy enough to not need this kind of care,” he added. “It won’t be so much how we help folks when they’re sick, but how we help folks stay healthy. This will include ensuring that everyone has access to healthy foods, is able to breathe clean air and lives in safe communities. It extends to safer neighborhoods and streets, better public transportation, more opportunities to walk, bike and generally live a healthy lifestyle.

“This may sound like a long way off, but we’ve made the critical start by implementing health care for all. We’re definitely moving in the right direction, but there’s lots more to do.”

— Story and photo by Larry Vogel

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