Editor’s note: This is part of a month-long series on how the Affordable Care Act benefits women. To read other parts of the series visit Women AdvaNCe.
There are lots of reasons why a woman may have trouble accessing health insurance.
Many women work part-time or work from home so they can fulfill their role as caregiver to children, aging parents, or disabled relatives. As a result, they’re not eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance. Other women work full-time but are in low-wage jobs that don’t offer benefits.
Starting in October, many of those women will be eligible for coverage through the new health insurance exchange. Each state is supposed to create its own online marketplace where residents can compare insurance options and costs and choose a plan that works for them. Here, lawmakers refused to set up an exchange, so North Carolinians will have to use the federal marketplace instead.
Either way, a whole new world of heath care options will open up to about a million people in North Carolina on October 1.
Now comes the real challenge – how to let all of those people know about it. There are 1.5 million uninsured people in North Carolina. (Not all of them will be eligible for coverage through the exchanges because they were supposed to get coverage under Medicaid expansion, which state lawmakers rejected.)
Countless thousands of uninsured people do not currently receive benefits from any government program so they are not “in the system.” They live everywhere from urban Charlotte to rural Lumberton. Many of them work low-wage jobs and are struggling to support their families, so getting health insurance for themselves may not be anywhere near the top of their to-do lists.
And of course, when they learn about the health exchanges, they’re likely to have lots of questions. What kind of insurance can I get? What will it cover? Do I qualify for a subsidy? How much will it cost?
The federal government included a number of provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to try to make signing up easier – no required in-person interview, one application, and a system that verifies things like household income for you so you don’t have to compile years’ worth of tax returns. So sign-up is simple – but people still need to learn about Obamacare and what it means for them. One recent study found that 78% of uninsured Americans don’t know about the new insurance exchanges.
Groups like Enroll America have put out guidelines to inform states about how they can make sure that everyone who is eligible for coverage actually enrolls. But it remains to be seen if the NC Department of Health and Human Services will actually implement any of those recommendations. For example, the guidelines suggest mining data from other government assistance programs to find people who are eligible.
Considering how hostile state leaders have been toward the ACA so far, it remains to be seen if such measures will be implemented and how dedicated and determined the McCrory administration will be to get people enrolled.
Nonprofit and community organizations may have to do the heavy lifting. Fortunately, a few organizations are gearing up to get the word out. Get Covered America, a branch of Enroll America, is launching its campaign to educate people about the ACA this week, and they’re looking for volunteers to help with the effort.
If you’re interested in helping to get the word out, you can begin by talking to your friends and family. You might assume your sister or your best friend has health insurance, but you might be wrong. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask. And if she says she is uninsured, send her to HealthCare.gov to get more information. You can let her know that enrollment starts October 1.
And you can spread the word through social media by adding a #GetCovered ribbon to your profile picture. What are you waiting for? October 1 will be here before you know it.
Diane Morris is a staff writer at Women Advance NC.