EDITORIAL: Time short to access insurance through ACA

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Nikki Byer, of Etters, holds her "Repair don't repeal The ACA" sign during a #TuesdaysWithToomey protest Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, outside of the Federal Building in Harrisburg. Amanda J. Cain photo

Lost, or at least overshadowed, amid the culminating election season has been the commencement of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act this year.

That’s right, despite repeated Republican efforts to repeal what they deride as Obamacare, the signature health care plan passed during President Barack Obama’s first term continues to thrive — and continues to provide otherwise-unavailable coverage to millions of Americans, including tens of thousands in Pennsylvania.

In fact, the Affordable Care Act has cut the state’s uninsured rate almost in half since it was passed in 2010. That year, an estimated 12.1 percent of Pennsylvanians went without health insurance, according to the State Data Center. At the end of 2016, the last year for which statistics are available, about 6.8 percent of the state’s population remained uninsured. (U.S. Census figures for 2017 paint an even brighter picture, pinning the state’s uninsured rate at 5.5 percent.)

Young adults — those between ages 18 and 39 — remain the largest cohort without insurance. Some 10 percent of that part of Pennsylvania’s population is uninsured (down from more than 20 percent in 2010).

Those figures hold true for York County, where some 6.3 percent of the population (more than 23,000 residents) does not have insurance, including 9.5 percent of the population between ages 18 and 39. Mirroring statewide figures, uninsured rates in York County have been generally cut in half since 2010 — with much of the reduction coming after then-newly installed Gov. Tom Wolf streamlined the state’s Medicaid expansion.

Those are welcome and positive trends, but no American should be without health-care coverage. That’s why the thousands of York County residents who are now uninsured must act quickly.

Among the many, many ways the Trump administration has sought to undermine the Affordable Care Act has been to reduce the enrollment period. It has been slashed from three months to about six weeks, with the window this year running from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. That means the clock is ticking.

But here’s some good news: State officials say there will be more coverage choices and next year’s approved rates are going down — between 2.3 percent and 2.6 percent on average.

That’s important not only for state residents seeking insurance, but for the estimated 850,000 already enrolled in the federal health-insurance marketplace, either individually or as part of small groups. Because, as state Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman points out, “even if a consumer is currently enrolled in a plan he or she likes, options change every year. In many counties, new options are available that may be an even better fit.”

Those new options can also affect financial assistance, so consumers will want to do their due diligence.

Fortunately, there are ample resources available. Pennsylvanians seeking Information on health-care plans and enrollment assistance should visit www.insurance.pa.gov. In addition, a Consumers’ Checkbook at pa.checkbookhealth.org provides information on coverage options, as well as cost estimates for monthly premiums and annual out-of-pocket payments for individual plans.

Yes, the Trump Administration has cut enrollment time in half. Yes, it has slashed advertising for the program. And yes, it has cut funding for so-called health-care navigators to assist individuals in signing up. But the Affordable Care Act is alive and well and continues to provide vital coverage to millions of Americans.

Be sure you or anyone you know who can benefit from the program takes full advantage of the life-changing — even life-saving — health insurance provided through the Affordable Care Act. Catch up on the changes, read up on the options and sign up for the coverage.