This year, 2013, is ushering in probably the most significant changes to our national health care system since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. For one thing, major publications are reporting a significant decrease in the growth rate of health care spending, including Medicare spending. Reports indicate that the growth rate is the slowest since federal officials began tracking this rate 50 years ago, and it is less than half that of 2002. Another major change is that the number of uninsured individuals will reach historically low levels. Both these changes are due, in large part, to the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as "Obamacare"). These changes are a taste of more to come; the full effects of the Affordable Care Act on our health care system will not be realized until well into 2014 and beyond.
Access to health insurance will increase as 2013 draws to a close. Beginning this summer, we will all be on the receiving end of a coordinated statewide advertising campaign from the Washington State online health insurance marketplace called the Washington Healthplanfinder. Its goal is to alert the one million uninsured Washington State residents (roughly one in seven people) that they may be eligible for new, affordable health insurance coverage options. Starting in October 2013, whether insured or uninsured, all of us will be able to shop online for health insurance on the Washington Healthplanfinder website. Also new in 2014, most people will be required to either have health insurance or pay a penalty fee.
Last week it was announced in The Bellingham Herald that Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement was selected to be one of 10 organizations in Washington State to, starting October 2013, use the Healthplanfinder to help people enroll in health plans whose coverage will take effect on Jan. 1, 2014. According to the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner, there are nearly 20,000 uninsured Whatcom County residents who will become eligible for either free or subsidized health insurance. On-site at Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement, we will provide one-on-one, impartial information to help each person search, compare and enroll in a health plan that best suits his/her needs and financial situation. This service is called, "In-Person Assistance."
We cannot do this alone. We asked the Opportunity Council, Mount Baker Planned Parenthood, Interfaith Community Health Center, and Sea Mar Community Health Center to help us provide "In-Person Assistance" to the 20,000 Whatcom County uninsured residents. Each organization has graciously stepped up to provide this important service for their patients or clients.
Perhaps the most difficult part will be getting the word out to all Whatcom residents who are without health insurance. We have reached out to many groups and organizations to assist us in our outreach efforts, including PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, the health department, the business community and the insurance broker community.
Together, we can make sure that every Whatcom County resident can avail themselves of the greatest opportunity in health care access for the past 50 years.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Elya Moore, PhD.. is deputy director and Larry Thompson is executive director of Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement, a nonprofit organization. For more information about the organization, go online to whatcomalliance.org.