Progressive Voices

Obamacare benefits the disabled

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Political disagreements have linked the viability of the Affordable Care Act to a potential shut down of the federal government. The fight over the ACA is in the news daily. Will the law survive?

Whatever your opinions, there is still one truth: The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. While things could change, the access to health care it guarantees all individuals regardless of pre-existing conditions will offer many people with disabilities access to affordable healthcare. Access to healthcare will improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families. People with health insurance are less vulnerable to health and financial crises. As a legal service organization, Disability Rights North Carolina has a legal mandate to help our clients – people with disabilities – live with and benefit from the law as it is right now.

The Affordable Care Act improves access to health insurance for the more than 1.5 million people in North Carolina who are currently uninsured. As of January 1, 2014, it will be easier to obtain insurance coverage. But it will be up to individuals to buy the plan that best meets their needs and the needs of their families.

Fortunately, they will also have new tools to purchase coverage. Starting October 1, 2013 and continuing until March 31, 2014, there will be open enrollment in a “Marketplace” for new insurance plans in which people can enroll online, by phone, or by mail. The Marketplace will make it easier for people to compare plans, figure out whether they are eligible for assistance to pay for coverage and other health care expenses, and find out if they are eligible for public insurance programs for themselves or their children. And the Marketplace must be accessible to people with disabilities including those with special communication needs. Not only will it be easier to find and pay for insurance, but, importantly for people with disabilities and their families, pre-existing conditions will no longer make someone ineligible or drive up their insurance cost.

Buying any insurance coverage is complicated. Buying insurance for individuals with complex healthcare needs that many people with disabilities have may be even more challenging. We know that people with disabilities will have to wade through the complex information and difficult decisions that are part of choosing a health insurance plan. That will be tough, but Disability Rights NC can help.

Disability Rights NC is proud to be part of a consortium of organizations that were awarded the nation’s fourth largest “Navigator” grant. The consortium is made up of community organizations which collectively represent the diversity of people in North Carolina. Collectively, the organizations have strong representation from legal services, faith-based, agricultural, aging, and health care services organizations. Their services will be accessible to people with disabilities and those who speak a language other than English.

The goal of the program is to assist people enrolling in health insurance in the new Marketplace. The consortium will assist North Carolinians statewide to find appropriate and affordable health insurance. More information about enrollment assistance is available at www.healthcare.gov.

During the open enrollment period Disability Rights NC will offer information sessions and one-on-one Navigator services. The Marketplace will ensure that North Carolinians with disabilities have access to all the information they need to obtain health care coverage through the Marketplace whether it is Medicaid or private insurance.

Applications for coverage will be available October 1 at www.healthcare.gov, and telephone assistance is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-318-2596 or TTY: 1-855-889-4325. If you or someone you know needs help to enroll in health insurance coverage, please take advantage of these excellent services. If you would like Disability Rights NC to present information on the Affordable Care Act and enrollment in health insurance to your community organization, please contact navigator@disabilityrightsnc.org.

People with disabilities face real barriers every day. The Affordable Care Act removes one of the most significant barriers families have faced in the past, ineligibility for and high costs of coverage because of pre-existing conditions. With that out of the way, let’s get to work enrolling people in coverage.

Vicki Smith is the Executive Director of Disability Rights North Carolina.

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