When Tommy R. Bennett first signed up for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2012, he appreciated having access to healthcare but the cost was disturbing.
Bennett, 62, had to fork out over $400 for his monthly premiums. That was a third of his yearly income as a single adult, retired and living on a fixed and meager income of $12,000 a year.
But as of November 1, Bennett and many others may get some relief.
Thanks to the recent vote by the Virginia General Assembly, 400,000-plus Virginians will be able to access the Affordable Care Act, due to lawmakers expansion of state Medicaid program earlier this year.
Now Virginia will join the 32 states which have expanded their Medicaid Program, in accordance with federal law. It applies to people with 138 percent of the federal poverty level or $16,750 and below for an individual.
A family of three with a $28,700 and below will benefit from it as well.
When ACA was passed by the Democratically-controlled U.S. Congress in 2010, Virginia resisted because the Republican party controlling the State Legislature said the cost was too high and was not sure that the federal government’s promise to cover the cost would stand.
Last fall, Virginia Democrats caught a Blue wave and erased the GOP seat dominance in the State House of Delegates and Senate.
Fearing further erosion of their support, a large number of House Republicans and two in the Senate threw their support behind the Medicaid expansion that Democrats had sought.
It was a promise that Gov. Ralph Northam ran on during a successful bid for the State House.
Republican fears of the cost were neutralized due to the federal government’s plans to cover 90 percent of the $2 billion price tag the state would encounter.
Starting November 1 when Americans begin signing up or renewing their policy options for the ACA, people like Bennett may see a reduction in their out-of-pocket costs.
Bennett signed up for the ACA during the first enrollment period.
“And I jumped for joy,” he said. “I was hoping that Virginia would turn Blue enough for it to happen and it did. With my income and continued high premiums, I would have had to go to a homeless shelter. I am so happy now.”
Actually, Bennett said that when he initially signed up for the ACA, he had the option for a premium as low as $20. But the deductible –the consumer’s share of the cost of services – would be over $3,000.
“With my $400 premiums my deductible was lower than under the ACA,” said Bennett, whose last job was as a nursing home administrator. “But now with Medicaid, my deductible will be zero.”
Bennett lives in Portsmouth now after migrating from Danville several years ago.
He said that when he first signed up for the ACA, it was due to the work of Gaylene Kanoyton, who has been organizing the series of Celebrate Healthcare Enrollfests and educational forums.
These events were designed to help people enroll for the ACA and learn about the various service options it provides.
When people enroll for the first time or update their ACA plans starting November 1, they will also be able to apply for access to Medicaid.
“I read about Gaylene’s programs in the newspapers,” he said. “And I attended one at the Hampton Coliseum. They were very informative. I heard about the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, but I knew little about it. There was so little about it in the media. A lot of people learn about these events through word of mouth.”
Kanoyton said her group is a grassroots organization. The Trump administration has cut federal funding for such organizations as part of its efforts to sabotage it, say health advocates.
The Republican-controlled U.S. Congress has voted successfully to “repeal” and dismantle it with no success.
Funding to stage her forums has been cut. But Kanoyton said the Commonwealth of Virginia is stepping up to ensure Virginians have the information needed. “Www.coverva.org is a great website to visit,” she said.
Once upon a time, Republicans were dominating the national political ecosphere by inspiring the party base of support to oppose the ACA. But ironically when Trump was elected and there was a press last year to repeal it, even Republican voters became more educated about its provisions.
This election cycle, Democrats have Republicans on defensive about the ACA ’s provision to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions such as cancers, HIV or other chronic diseases.
Bennett has high blood pressure.
Even many Republican candidates for the House and Senate during this mid-term cycle have been supportive of the ACA and its various provisions.
According to the Commonwealth Institute, 41,000 low-income residents will be able to use the ACA when Medicaid Expansion is in place, come January 1, 2019.
In Hampton Roads, those who will benefit include Norfolk, 12,000; Virginia Beach, 10,000; Newport News, 7,800; Hampton, 5,200; Portsmouth, 4,300; and Suffolk, 2,100.
Fairfax County, which has the largest population in the state, has 28,000 people who will be able to use the Expansion options.
Kanoyton will host one of first ACA enrollment and education forums in Hampton on November 3, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the West Hampton Community Center. For more information, call (757) 287-0277.
By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide