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Questions about the Affordable Care Act?

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image Michael Van Hoek is shown during a presentation to the South Shore Democratic Club on Oct. 10.

Head to Ruskin presentations

By Kevin Brady
 
Confused about the Affordable Care Act? Michael Van Hoek is your man.

Van Hoek, and thousands like him, are fanning out across the country this month to explain the new healthcare regulations.

“We had more than 50 people turn out last week for a presentation at the SouthShore Regional Library,” Van Hoek said. “We want to let everyone know that information and help is available out there for free.”

The presentations are set for 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 16 and 1 to 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 19 at the Ruskin Branch Library, 26 Dickman Drive SE.

More than 20,000 Hillsborough County residents don’t have health insurance, according to Van Hoek, with 11,000 of those living west of U.S. Hwy 41. Some 3.5 million Floridians live without coverage, the second highest in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Almost lost in the furor over the shutdown of the federal government and debt limits, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare as it has become known, went live Oct. 1. The biggest change in health care policy since the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, The Affordable Care Act requires every U.S. citizen have health insurance.

For the millions of uninsured Americans and small business owners the issue is not a debate in the rarified air of Congress, rather a change that will impact their ability to see a doctor, and their wallets, for the rest of their lives. And they have questions. Lots of questions, Van Hoek said.

“The questions run the gamut from individuals who have questions about the penalties for not signing up for insurance to questions about how to sign up,” said Van Hoek, a former paramedic with 30 years of experience who holds a bachelor’s degree in public health from the University of South Florida.

Van Hoek is also hoping to dispel a widespread misunderstanding that there’s a difference between the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare. There’s also a common misperception that the Affordable Care Act is an insurance plan, he said.

“Obamacare is just the nickname for the Affordable Care Act. It’s not an insurance plan, rather it is a reform of the insurance industry that established marketplaces that act as one-stop shops where people can go and compare insurance coverage.”

For those with insurance, the new marketplaces also let customers “compare apple to apple coverage” to see if better coverage is available. The sites also have information on how to qualify for Medicare, Medicaid as well as applying for federal advanced premium tax credits and other federal subsidies that may be available to cover co-payments and deductibles.

Van Hoek is one of six navigators employed by Suncoast Community Health Centers. Inc., the operator of the Ruskin Clinic and several other medical and dental clinics in east and south Hillsborough County. The group was recently awarded a one-year grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to conduct both public and private outreach.

With problems reported on some Affordable Care Act websites, Van Hoek believes the public meetings have even greater value.

“There have been some glitches with the websites but it is improving every day. However, when we sit down with people we can also assist them with navigating the sites, filling out the paperwork and helping them with the phone calls.”

While the debate to reform the Affordable Care Act goes on in Congress, Van Hoek’s presentations are politics free.

“These presentations are not political in nature; neither are we selling anything,” emphasized Van Hoek. “We are not there to debate the politics of it. We are simply there to explain the Affordable Care Act and the Marketplaces, and to provide individuals and small businesses free assistance from trained and certified application counselors and navigators.”

Van Hoek is also meeting with small business owners who might have questions about the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace. “We already have presentations in the works for several local businesses and are reaching out to others through local Chambers.”

For more information on the Affordable Care Act, visit https://www.healthcare.gov/. Email Van Hoek at mvanhoek@suncoast-chc.org to schedule a presentation.

Affordable Care Act:
Q&A

Q: What is the Health Insurance Marketplace?
A: The Marketplace is a new way to find health insurance coverage that fits your budget needs. With one application you can see all your options and enroll.

Q: How do I get an exemption for not having coverage?
A: Starting in 2014, most people must have coverage or pay a fee although there are exemptions in some cases. If you can afford coverage and don’t get it you will not only pay a penalty but also pay for coverage.

Q: What if I have a preexisting condition?
A: Starting in 2014, most health insurance companies can’t refuse to cover you or change your coverage because you have a preexisting condition.

Q: What if I am retired but not eligible for Medicare?
A: If you are retired without insurance, you may use the Health Insurance Marketplace to buy insurance. If you don’t get coverage you may have to pay a fee.

Q: What if I am unemployed?
A: The unemployed may qualify for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program or lower costs on the Marketplace insurance, based on your income.

Q: What if I am a part-time worker?
A: Part-time workers without job-based coverage can buy health insurance in the Marketplace and get lower costs based on their income.

Q: What if my employer offers health insurance through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace?
A: If your employer enrolls in the SHOP program, you will be able to enroll online.

Q: Can I keep my own doctor?
A: Depending on the plan you choose in the Marketplace, you may be able to keep your current doctor.
For more information on the Affordable Care Act, visit https://www.healthcare.gov/.

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