The meeting Thursday night was billed as a town hall on the question “Where does Indiana stand on the Affordable Care Act?” but that was only one of dozens of questions to tackle.
With barely more than a month left before people can start signing up for health insurance through the health insurance exchanges created under the act, now more commonly called Obamacare, there's a lot to learn. About 200 people showed up at the auditorium of the main Allen County Public Library downtown to find out more about how the health-care law will change their lives.
People whose health insurance is provided through their employers may not notice big changes immediately, although some, such as parents being able to keep their children on their policies until they're 26 years old, already are in effect. But when individual policies purchased under the law take effect beginning Jan. 1, the differences those policyholders see will be significant.
For example, men and women of the same age and circumstances will pay the same rates. Younger people will pay more and older people will pay less, relative to one another, under Obamacare rules. And people whose household income is less than four times the poverty rate -- that's currently $94,200 for a family of four -- will be eligible for a tax credit that subsidizes the cost of insurance. The subsidies run on a sliding scale, with greater subsidies for lower-income households.
Doug Powers, a panelist at the meeting and an attorney with Beckman Lawson who specializes in employee benefits compliance and litigation, said the details of the law are startlingly dense. “There are about 35,000 pages of regulations implementing this act, and I don't think there's any end in sight,” he said. But he urged people there to dig in and find out about the law for themselves instead of falling for the political spin they may hear served up about Obamacare.
He recommended the Kaiser Family Foundation, www.kff.org, as providing the “most accessible, unbiased, clearest” summary of the law. “Summary” is relative when it comes to this law, because the basic explanation of the law on the Kaiser site runs more than 9,000 words long.
Among panelists other observations and answers to questions from the audience:
*Indiana still hasn't decided whether to expand Medicaid eligibility in Indiana beyond those who are currently entitled to the insurance benefit -- generally speaking, the elderly poor, children younger than 18, pregnant women and people who are disabled. The Affordable Care Act provides financial aid to states that expand Medicaid along the lines spelled out in the law, which would make about 350,000 more Hoosiers eligible for Medicaid, said panelist Paul Chase, who is deputy director for policy and administration at Covering Kids and Families of Indiana.
*This expansion of coverage and loosening of restrictions on insurance isn't a free gift dropped on policyholders. There are 30 or so new taxes imposed to help fund it, said Powers. “At the end of the day, the federal government is assuming a lot of the burden, and that means you and I,” Powers said.
“It's going to cost more, but it is going to be spread over more people,” said Mary Haupert, president and CEO of Neighborhood Health Clinics.
*The requirement for individuals to buy health insurance -- a key part of financing Obamacare -- comes with penalties for individuals who don't buy insurance. Powers said that penalty begins at $95 per year or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, and rises over time to $695 or 2.5 percent of income in 2016 and later, whichever is greater.
The Internal Revenue Service has no direct power to enforce the individual mandate, Powers said, but it can deduct the penalty for people who don't buy insurance from their income-tax refunds.
The main sponsor of the town hall was HealthVisions of Fort Wayne, which describes itself as a ministry sponsored by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.