Local push made for last minute ACA signees
(pictured above: Jane Dougherty (left) talks with Kim Poe at the Democratic headquarters last month.)
Just hours before the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act officially closed, a handful of city leaders made one final attempt to help area residents enroll in the program.
City Council Members Denise Adams, Dan Besse, Molly Leight, Jeff MacIntosh, Derwin Montgomery and James Taylor hosted a Last Chance event on March 31 at the Democratic Party Headquarters on Burke Street. The group hosted a similar event at the Hanes Hosiery Recreation Center last weekend, and were able to get 17 families enrolled as a result, reported Besse, who represents the city’s Southwest Ward.
Besse, a longtime Council member, has been among the city’s outspoken proponents of the ACA.
“One of the biggest needs in our community is for affordable healthcare. Forsyth County has long had difficulty with a number of its health indicators,” he said, referencing the county’s infant mortality rate, food deserts and lack of access to safe recreation in some areas of the community among its chief challenges. “…All of this leads to health challenges, which is why it’s important for people to get access to preventative healthcare.”
Not surprisingly, the Obama Administration-led ACA has become highly politicized, said Larry Johnson, vice chair of the Forsyth County Democratic Party.
“I think it’s out of fear more than anything else,” he said. “They don’t want it to be successful … because it has that name, Obama, attached to it, and that’s not good, according to the GOP.”
Like many progressives, Johnson finds fault with Gov. Pat McCrory and state legislators’ decision to refuse federal dollars allocated for Medicaid expansion programs that would have provided coverage for an estimated 500,000 uninsured North Carolinians. Medical expenses are the leading cause of bankruptcy in America, according to CNBC.
Over seven million Americans enrolled for coverage through the ACA. North Carolina had more than 200,000 enrollments, one of the largest state turnouts nationwide (according to NC Policy Watch), a fact that Johnson believes is very telling.
Even for elected officials like Besse, a Democrat, publicly backing the project is not without its risks, he said.
“You have to be accountable for the positions you take, and those of us like Jeff (MacIntosh) and Molly (Leight) and I, who are in districts that can go either way, are sort of putting our necks out on this,” he remarked, adding that he felt compelled to support the ACA. “I understand that I’m alienating some voters, but this is one of the most important issues in the nation today, and I feel an obligation to help produce the change that we need.”
Jane Dougherty, a certified navigator for the ACA system, was among the volunteers on hand to help residents sign up for the program at the headquarters Monday. The ACA Web site was unavailable on the day of the deadline because of the high level of demand, but Dougherty, a retiree, fielded questions about the Act, its costs and parameters and aided eligible recipients to get “in line” by adding their names to a list of folks who started the signup process in time and will be allowed to complete their registration at a later date. Dougherty has participated in several similar events in Winston-Salem and Greensboro, as well as aiding friends and acquaintances in applying. The longtime city resident said it was rewarding to be a part of a project that she believes in so wholeheartedly in.
“I don’t know if there are any words,” she said. “…For me, it’s just a thrill that I can help people get something that I believe is so important in their lives.”
Winston-Salem resident Kim Poe was among those who took advantage of the navigators’ expertise at the Last Chance event. Since being laid off from her job with US Airways after 19 years of service, Poe says she hasn’t been able to find permanent employment and as a result, has been uninsured for close to eight years.
“I worry about it everyday, every second, almost,” she confessed.
Poe held a job for nearly five years, but because of her status as a temporary employee, was ineligible for insurance benefits. She began the process of signing up for ACA in October, but has been met with several obstacles, from the influx of respondents who clogged the Web site early on, to difficulties in navigating the site itself. But on last week, she finally was able to get “in line,” adding her name to the list of applicants just in time for the deadline.
“It’s wonderful. I just hope it all works out,” she said of applying. “It’s a relief off your shoulders, really. It’s a great feeling.”
MacIntosh, who is in his first term representing the Northwest Ward, said providing affordable health care for all just plain makes sense.
“It’s the basic insurance theory: if you make the pool big enough, then we can all afford it,” MacIntosh said. “If we keep people from signing up, it’s going to be painful for everyone.”
Although many dissenters are sounding the alarm, trumpeting what they say will be grave consequences of the program’s implementation, MacIntosh believes the benefits of ACA will be evident in the long run.
“I’m looking forward to seeing down the line when the practical aspects of this are actually felt by people,” he said. “I think it’s going to be really positive to see how well this actually serves people.”