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In yesterday’s story about the first-ever Eid Festival in Anaheim, which is still going strong today until 9:00, I promised to explain to you what Iyad Afalqa was doing there — as well as promising you an unexpected special guest. Well, here you go! My interview with Iyad was interrupted (not in a bad way) by Anaheim Councilmember Jordan Brandman, with whom I get along reasonably well when the topic comes to the sorts of policy matters — education, healthcare, gay rights, multiculturalism generally — that don’t tend to come before the Anaheim City Council. So let’s just enjoy the sense of conviviality and community here without reference to my recent story on Brandman and his cohort (which you should of course read when you’re done with this piece, if you haven’t already. Darn — I was almost well-behaved there for a moment!)
One reason that I hate doing video interviews is that they take forever to load onto YouTube — and in this case, the videos themselves seem that they might not turn out quite right. (Using my wife’s phone, having left my own at home, I apparently told Siri something like “cut the frame in half horizontally and shift part of it over a ways” — we’ll see if it’s fixed on playback.)
In the meantime, let’s get started while there’s still time to induce you to go to the Anaheim Promenade today and get yourself properly hennaed — or whatever you prefer. I’ll tell the story briefly in words; the videos, YouTube and Siri willing, will follow reasonbly soon.
[Update: Oh, look, here’s the first one!]
And there’s another one!
Iyad, who has an Health Care Executive MBA with emphasis on Health Care Management and Policy from UCI, is working with Access California Services (www.Accesscal.org). He heads the statewide Outreach and Education efforts of to get the word out about Covered California — California’s implementation of the Obamacare “health care exchanges” — to people who aren’t likely to get the news about it through “standard” means. This may be, for example, because they don’t speak English fluently or are just not likely to seek out (or perhaps to trust) the standard sorts of spokespersons for the government. So, by getting the word out to community leaders, religious leaders, civil associations, etc. — in a rainbow of languages — Iyad’s group is going to make sure that as many people as possible know what their rights and responsibilities are under the new health care law.
(1) What do people need to know about Obamacare?
Thus far, most of what people know about Obamacare is probably this:
- It has implemented a bunch of “consumer protection” measures such as:
- letting children stay on their parents’ healthcare insurance policies until their 26th birthday
- not allowing people to be denied health insurance for pre-existing conditions
- ending the practice of “rescission,” in which an insurer could cancel your policy when you get sick
- eliminating annual and lifetime caps on coverage
- requiring that certain services such as mammograms be provided for free
- requiring insurers that spend less then 80% of their policy premium income on actual service to patients to rebate money to their insureds (it used to be about 60%)
- It requires people, in most cases, to purchase insurance — although there are both subsidies and exceptions — and while the government called this a “fee” or a “mumble-mumble” the Supreme Court said “OK, it’s really a tax”
- It is going to lead to the end of civilization and takeover of the nation by agents of diabolical capital-E Evil
All of these are controversial — and the last one is, of course, a flat-out lie. Iyad’s group is non-partisan, but the people working with him are allowed to correct certain misconceptions such as that one.
You want to understand most of what’s coming next year in Obamacare in one sentence? Here you go:
We’re giving individuals the benefits that have previously come with having group insurance.
You know how people with pre-existing conditions like cancer or high-blood pressure or pregnancy have had to get jobs at fast-food restaurants — back when they offered health insurance benefits, hahahaha – in order to be able to get medical insurance? Those days are gone. This used to happen — actually, for another 4-1/2 months, it will still happen — because if you get individual insurance and you have such a condition the company pretty much knows that it will have to pay more for you than it can charge you. You are, in other words, a money-loser for them — and they don’t want to do business with you. If, however, you’re part of a group insurance policy, they’ll accept your having some conditions like this because insuring you is the price of insuring everyone else in your group.
You are now part of a group — and you can get the benefits of group insurance. In fact, you pretty much have to. (That’s the “mandatory” part of it.) The only way insurers can afford to give everyone group rather than individual insurance is the have everyone in a group.
Now is this the best way to run a nation’s insurance program? Most people, from either left or right of center, would agree that it is not.
People like me would say to just raise taxes and give everyone insurance out of the general fund, period, as we see with Medicare or with Canada. The more radical than me would say to nationalize the health-care system entirely, as you see with the Veteran’s Administration or England or (all the more so) Cuba. And lots of people (like me) would say that if you’re not going to give everyone group insurance, you should at least have the government run a Medicare-like option for people, to keep the insurance companies from colluding to keep prices as high as possible, which few would think is beyond them.
Our system is sort of along the lines of what is done in Germany, where any qualified company can offer medical insurance — but they must be subject to rigorous regulations. Our regulations are, thus far, not as rigorous as those of the Germans, but perhaps we’ll get the hang of it.
On the right, we have people who would say “tough luck” to those without insurance — remember Ron Paul and the applauded “let ‘em die!” response to him by an audience member at one of the Republican debates — or those who would like to have policies sold across state lines so that the entire nation’s regulation of policies could devolve to the level of, say, Mississippi. Most more establishment Republicans seem now to accept that it would be awfully hard at this point to get people to give up those reasonable-seeming benefits listed under the first bullet point, so they say that they want to keep those but just get rid of the mandated portion. I sort of like this idea, because it would probably bankrupt private health insurance companies in a matter of hours and force the implementation of nationalized health insurance — but this is not the intent (and they’re mostly sort of hoping that the people they tell this to just won’t do the math.)
(2) What do people need to know about Covered California?
California, as Iyad says, has led the nation in the implementation of Obamacare’s health exchanges. Technically, the “exchange” is just a website where people can look up the different programs available to us — a procedure well-known to those of us who have received our health insurance through work. In Orange County, residents will have a choice between Anthem Blue Cross, BlueShield, Kaiser-Permanente, and HealthNet (or something. I forget that last one) — which is pretty much the same choice that my wife has available through her job. (See — you’re now part of a group!)
Lots of states have been dragging their heels and contorting themselves like kids that don’t want to put on their clothes and go to school. California is different. (Seriously — that 2010 election is looming larger and larger as a critical one in the state’s history.) We’ve been jumping into this like a kid into a pile of dry leaves. Unlike the case of Mississippi providing the standard to which other states must sink, California hopes to provide the standard to which other states should rise. (Seriously: when people sue a state like Texas for screwing things up, and Texas says that doing it any better was impossible, litigants will be able to point to California to show how it could have been done. This is delicious.)
So: among the things that people will need to know about CoveredCA is whether they need to get insurance through the exchanges — partial answer: you don’t if you already have group insurance, among other reasons — and how much they will need to pay for it. The information on the latter question will be coming out on October 1st, the first day of the “enrollment period” — again, a term familiar to whose of us who’ve had insurance through work. The prices are expected to be pretty similar to what one pays through work — after all, the cost savings in insurance come from being part of a diverse group, and this is going to be the biggest group around. (This is why they want to get healthy young people into the group as well.)
As the videos get posted — again, sorry for the delay! — you’ll be able to see Iyad’s explanation of what is going on with the program and what his group is doing to get out the word. Be happy that he’s doing it, wherever you are on the political spectrum, because the more people he ensures get the message of what they’re supposed to do, the lower our costs are as a society. What we hope for, ultimately, is no more people using the emergency rooms for their primary care — which bankrupts them and leads to inefficient use of hospital time and resources.
That means getting the message through not only to those who are easy to reach, but to those who are harder to reach. And that’s what Iyad and his crew are doing at the Eid Festival — making health care cheaper and more widely held. Go to the Festival today and you can thank him for this in person!
Update: Here’s the accidental video I took while I intended to take the photo that heads this piece. Yes, it’s behind the scenes at OJB!