By Robert Fulton
Ben Hall’s situation sounds familiar.
Ben, a self-employed musician and music teacher living in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, pays for his own health insurance — $185 a month to Anthem. He’s also one of the millions of Americans who recently received a letter in the mail from his insurance provider canceling his plan at the end of the year because it doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for coverage set forth by the Affordable Care Act.
That’s what motivated Ben and his wife Hillary to attend a recent town hall and enrollment fair hosted last month by Rep. Karen Bass at West Los Angeles College.
“We do have a lot of questions,” Ben, 33, said. “We thought it would be nice to actually have an opportunity to sit down and talk with a person and have someone go over some of our options, let me know if I qualify for financial assistance. Basically have that personal interaction, whereas I’ve heard all the issues with the website. I know it’s backed up.”
Hillary is also self-employed and pays for her own health insurance. The dance instructor has not received a notification of any changes to her $340 per month plan with Kaiser. She said she’s interested to learn if there are more affordable, comparable coverage options available through Covered California.
Ben and Hillary are newlyweds, married in June.
“We’re interested to see if there’s some kind of plan that would benefit both of us since you can do it as a household,” Hillary, 29, said. “It seemed like a great opportunity to interact with somebody who might have more information.”
The event at West L.A. College featured two rooms buzzing with enrollment counselors assisting folks interested in applying for health insurance through Covered California; a town hall led by congresswoman Bass, who represents California’s 37th congressional district; numerous vendors, including a St. John’s Mobile Health Clinic offering free medical check ups; and a series of workshops discussing the impact of health care reform on young adults, seniors, and those who qualify for Medi-Cal.
Bass said that the event was designed to disseminate information, answer questions from those confused by health care reform, and enroll people in Covered California.
“We’re doing very well in California, but I’ve talked to so many people who are confused because of what’s happening nationally, so we wanted people to have the information,” Bass said. “I hope people will walk away signed up, and if not signed up, they’ll walk away with an appointment and all the information and tools that they need so they can sign up.”
Questions about mental illness and independent contractors on the minds of those who had yet to sign up for insurance. In addition to Bass, John Connolly, Associate Director at the Insuring the Uninsured Project and Jim Mangia, M.D. president and CEO at St. John’s Well Child and Wellness Center were on hand to help people better understand their options.
Bass was not a member of Congress when the Affordable Care Act passed in March of 2010. At the time, she was Speaker of the California State Assembly and representing the state’s 47th District. She said she remembers watching the vote pass on television so the United States could be “like all the other industrialized nations in the world.” The Democrat expressed her frustration, once she joined Congress, at having to repeatedly vote against bills presented by house Republicans to overturn the law.
Like Ben Hall, Gwendolyn Blandin is also seeing her health care insurance be canceled. The 58-year-old widow has what she called “junk” insurance for $450 a month through PacificCare. She said a twisted ankle resulted in a $2,000 emergency room bill, and more recently, she received a letter in the mail saying her coverage was to be dropped at the end of the year.
Blandin, unemployed, added that she couldn’t qualify for Medi-Cal because of the value of her home. Asset tests for Medi-Cal enrollees will cease on Jan. 1.
Blandin said that she understands why people like her had their coverage canceled, but she hoped to find answers of what to do next at the enrollment fair.
“They had junk health care,” Blandin said. “Especially if they’re like me. They had junk, and they’re paying good money for junk. The insurance companies just jack you up, they’re not reasonable or anything.”
Paul Tamaki attended the town hall and enrollment fair to gather information to take back to his neighborhood, where he acts as block captain. He planned to report on what he learned at his neighborhood’s regular meeting.
“I’m just trying to figure out, if somebody in my neighborhood is interested in the Affordable Care Act, what is the process to go through to find out information to make a decision about that,” Tamaki, 57, said.
Tamaki said that he’s heard plenty of negative news in the press, from poorly working websites to insurance companies dropping customers, and calls the slow start to health care reform “unfortunate.”
“I think the ideas are good, and I think in the long term it’s going to be a good thing, but I think in the short term, there’s a lot of people who are very confused,” Tamaki said.
Takami works as an independent contractor for a delivery company, and hasn’t received a letter from Kaiser saying he’s being dropped from his $500 a month plan.
Following the town hall, three workshops tackled health care reform’s impact on young adults, seniors and Medi-Cal enrollees. At the same time, enrollment counselors kept busy, eventually having to take down people’s contact information to make appointments for later consultations.
Ben and Hillary Hall were able to meet with a counselor, spending 45 minutes going over options. The couple learned that their joint income qualifies them for Medi-Cal.
They both preferred the process in person.
“If we were doing this online, I’m not sure we would have realized the care that we qualified for, or we would have been unsure,” Ben said. “These guys, it seemed like they knew what they were talking about.”