No health insurance? Now’s when you can sign up

Imagine: Instead of going to the emergency room because of an asthma attack, you get help from your primary care team to prevent those attacks.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you have access to services that help prevent and treat illness. ACA coverage can keep you safer and healthier, and give you peace of mind knowing you won’t go bankrupt or have your credit ruined because of medical bills or emergency costs.

Open enrollment kicks off this weekend. On Nov. 22 and 23, certified navigators and brokers will be at the Tacoma Mall to help citizens enroll or answer their questions.

The ACA allows more people than ever to establish medical homes with a primary health care provider to focus on important health needs with regular visits. Why is better access to care important for our residents?

Because in Pierce County, we have some of the highest rates in the state for:

• Smoking: One in five Pierce County adults smokes. This rate of 20 percent is above the state rate of 16 percent and the Healthy People 2020 national goal of 12 percent.

• Obesity: Obesity rates in Pierce County continue to rise in adults. At 30 percent, the rate is higher than the state rate of 27 percent.

• Physical inactivity: Only 26 percent of adults meet recommendations for physical activity. Only 47 percent of 10th-graders meet the recommendations for 60 minutes of physical activity for five or more days per week.

These poor health indicators can lead to diabetes, cancer, heart and respiratory diseases. Affordable health care, with its focus on prevention and treatment, gives our residents of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to improve their health and live longer lives.

Admit it. When you feel better, you are more productive and more likely to face life’s challenges with a positive attitude.

With the help of many partners, we reduced Pierce County’s uninsured rate by more than half during the first open enrollment period. Nearly 60,000 of our residents signed up and can now access screenings, acute care, prescription drugs and mental health services without being denied for pre-existing conditions.

We’re glad so many signed up, but we know there are many more who remain uninsured. It’s time to fix that.

We urge more Tacoma and Pierce County residents to take advantage of affordable care and health insurance. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department partners with more than a dozen community-based organizations, including South Sound Outreach, Community Health Care, Sea Mar, Planned Parenthood, the Asia Pacific Cultural Center and others to provide one-on-one help. Trained, certified navigators can provide assistance in many languages, explain how tax credits work and help complete an application.

Make sure your family and friends have coverage. But don’t stop there: Tell your barista, the bagger at the grocery store, your neighbors, your favorite restaurant servers and your fellow church members. Remind those who are young and in good health that having coverage is probably less expensive than a trip to the emergency room.

To apply or find a certified navigator, visit www.wahealthplanfinder.org. For information on local enrollment events, visit the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s website at www.tpchd.org/healthcarereform.

The 13th largest state in population, Washington ranked third in ACA signups last year, behind only California and New York. Let’s maintain that position by increasing the number of Tacoma-Pierce County residents who have access to health care.

Anthony L-T Chen, M.D., is director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Victoria Woodards is deputy mayor of Tacoma and vice chair of the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health.