David R. Jones (137830)
David R. Jones Credit: Contributed

Legend has it that Mark Twain had this to say about an obituary mistakenly published in a major newspaper: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

The same can be said of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as “Obamacare.” Despite five failed attempts to repeal and replace it, just this year, and a concerted propaganda campaign by the Trump Administration to undermine it, the ACA is very much alive. And, I might add, still the law of the land.

In fact, yesterday (November 1) marked the beginning of this year’s “Open Enrollment Period” for uninsured New Yorkers applying for health insurance in 2018. More on that later.

Back when he was a candidate, Donald Trump promised with great fanfare that if elected he would make healthcare “far less expensive and far better” than the current system. It’s hard to believe that someone who has put so much time and energy since then into trying to undermine the law, while investing so little time in trying to understand its complexities, is legitimately interested in producing something better.

Not surprisingly, federal spending on advertising to inform the public about open enrollment periods has been slashed by 95 percent. Scarcely a day goes by without the President attacking the law rhetorically or actively taking steps to undermine it.

So let’s end the charade. The President and Republican hardliners are not the least bit interested in improving our healthcare system. Period.

Rather, this is about their singular obsession with obliterating the signature policy achievement of former President Barack Obama. They also want to deliver a huge tax cut to the wealthy. Eliminating government subsidies under the ACA, not only offsets the cost of their tax cut, but it helps achieve that.

Meanwhile, our President continues to create chaos in the insurance market. His latest effort to circumvent the ACA was announced earlier this month – a dubious proposal to allow people to buy inexpensive health coverage of disputable quality through “association plans.” Typically these plans allow professional groups to offer cheap coverage with sky-high deductibles, and hide within the fine print discriminatory policies underwritten into the plan that deny coverage for things like “pre-existing conditions” and other standards of care established under the ACA.

New York State of Health Marketplace

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has found that all five Republican bills would end in the loss of coverage for millions of Americans. Think that’s a coincidence? It speaks to the real intent behind the right’s approach to health care: Let it die.

Contrast that with New York’s approach. Four million New Yorkers have enrolled in health insurance through the New York State of Health, the state’s insurance shopping website, or marketplace, where New Yorkers can shop coverage options, find out if they are eligible for financial aid, and get enrollment help.

New York’s uninsured rate is the lowest it’s been in decades. High uninsured rates are a significant driver of disparities in health outcomes. In 2013 when New York’s marketplace first opened, the uninsured rate for blacks in New York was 12 percent. Four years later, the uninsured rate for blacks is nearly half that at 6.8 percent.

Here’s why. As one of the few states that operates its own health insurance marketplace, New York funds its own advertising budget and consumer enrollment program. Together, these components have made it easier for consumers in New York to shop for affordable health care and get help and assistance with their health insurance needs. More importantly, New York’s one-stop-shopping approach ensures that every consumer is evaluated for the program that is right for them: commercial or public alike. No other state or federal marketplace can boast of such a sophisticated eligibility system.

Open Enrollment Begins Now

As New Yorkers prepare for the one time of the year they can sign up for health coverage, here are some things they should know.

The open enrollment period began November 1 and runs through January 31. New applicants for health insurance can apply for coverage through December 15 for plans that take effect January 1, 2018. The open enrollment period for consumers renewing existing policies begins November 16.

Under the ACA, Americans are still legally required to purchase health insurance unless their income is too low. On average some plan prices may increase by an average of 12 percent. But the good news is that people with financial assistance are unlikely to feel the impact of these price increases and there are lots of options out there. And for people with very low incomes, the ACA still requires insurers to provide reduced deductibles and co-pays for low-income applicants. Take a tip. While the ACA is still the law of the land, take advantage, go shopping, and enroll.

For assistance enrolling in health insurance call the CSS Help Line: 1-888-614-5400.

David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 170 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.