Princeton Patch

Rep. Holt, Health Care Advocates Converge For Central Jersey 'Obamacare' Roundtable

Princeton Patch — Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Posted by Greta Cuyler (Editor)

With the specter of the government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the rearview mirror, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) visited with health care advocates and officials from across New Jersey Monday in South Brunswick to discuss the positives and negatives with Obamacare.

The discussion included Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Jaime Torres, along with officials from Enroll America, the American Cancer Society, and the American Heart Association, in addition to other groups. While there have been numerous issues to overcome with the ACA, Rep. Holt said the need for health care reform has been a pressing issue across the nation for decades, including the denial of coverage for preexisting conditions and the removal of lifetime and annual caps.

"I think you might say if the past is any guide to how the other parts of the Affordable Care Act will work, then we've got a pretty good record to build on," Holt said.

When enrollment for the ACA began on Oct. 1, the web site for people to apply for the program, healthcare.gov, turned into a nightmare for all involved as it was beset by glitches and technical issues. A CNBC survey revealed that only one in five people were able to log in to the site without a technical issue.

The survey also found that about one-quarter of those who tried to create an account were unable to do so due to technical issues. The report stated that on the other side of the site, insurance providers were getting incomplete and corrupted applications that couldn't be processed, in addition to states having trouble accessing federal data.

"Im sure we're going to be looking back a year from now and the successes will overwhelm the glitches we're having now," Dr. Torres said. "We've been overwhelmed by the technical aspects of it, but people are enrolling nationally and across the state."

A recent poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News found that 56 percent of people surveyed believed the problems with the web site are "part of a broader problem with the health care law."

The poll revealed that 46 percent of people now support the ACA, while 49 percent are still in opposition, but those results have improved since July among moderate and conservative Democrats, as Republican opposition also softened, according to the Washington Post. One in five opponents to the ACA said "it doesn't go far enough rather than saying it goes too far in changing the system," the report stated.

"It clearly is not the end all, be all, for providing high quality health care for all Americans. I think before long, in not too many years, we will go to universal single payer coverage," Holt said. "I do think we're going to have to make some changes and improvements over the coming years, like we do with any legislation."

Despite the hiccups from the launch of the ACA web site, health care officials lauded some of the provisions that they say will make a huge difference in the quality of life for New Jersey residents. Among the positive provisions highlighted were parents being able to keep children on their plans until age 26, treatment for mental health and substance abuse, and treatment of preexisting conditions.

"It's beyond my comprehension how you can deny care to people who need it most, and this will no longer be the case under the ACA," said Justine Ceserano, New Jersey State Director for Enroll America. "I think that both on the mental health side, and with chronic conditions that affect so many Americans and New Jerseyans, they now have the ability to obtain health care regardless of their status."

People have until Dec. 15 to enroll for the new insurance to kick in on Jan. 1, but if it's not needed residents can wait until Feb. 15 to sign up. Open enrollment will run through March 30. People who choose to opt out altogether could face a penalty of up to 1 percent of their income when taxes are due in August.

"For the good of this legislation and for the good of our efforts, the American people clearly need to see a gesture of good will, if there's a way to extend the enrollment period," said Maura Collinsgru, a Health Police Advocate from New Jersey Citizen Action. "The huge numbers of people going to the site now are uninsured people desperate to get insurance. They shouldn't be penalized because we, as community servants, could not open the door for them."

Dr. Michael Steinberg of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School said it's crucial for the ACA to focus on preventative care, which he called the most important component to be addressed in the health care system.

"There has to be the political will to say enough, we're not going to spend millions on bypass surgery when we could spend a fraction on prevention," he noted.

A major focus of the roundtable was on community outreach, as advocates acknowledged they need to address the concerns of their various constituencies so they have a complete picture of the positives and negatives associated with the ACA.

"People don't fully understand it, they haven't been prepped enough to understand it. People push back out of fear," said Alecia Joy Bloom, of the American Cancer Society. "We as individuals in our respective rolls need to get the word out there. I find one of the biggest obstacles to be that people don't know enough, so we need to figure out how to explain it to them and calm them."

South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese questioned Rep. Holt as to why there was little to no response to what he called a small group of people in Washington D.C. who sought to demonize the ACA by saying it would destroy the country. Holt said the problems that came to the forefront during the government shutdown came down to antipathy for the government and a personal dislike for President Barack Obama.

Holt added that it's vital for legislators to reach out to those who feel the ACA will be a long term albatross on the economy and country in general.

He pointed to the cost passed down to the insured populationthrough higher premiums when uninsured people visit the emergency room.

"We need to remind those already in the system that to have these millions of people brought in will save us all money and give us a healthier population, and that benefits all of us. We failed to talk about what's in this for people who thought they had good coverage," he said. "You think you have good coverage until you need it, then you discover (insurance companies) find you had a preexisting condition and now you're not covered

"We need to let every person know what's in it for them whether or not they have insurance coverage."

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