Federal official answers questions about health care law at Paine College

Audrey Wood used to pay $300 a month for her mother’s dementia medication along with premium costs for her husband’s and her own health care.

After President Obama’s signature health care legislation, the Affordable Care Act, became law in 2010, Wood saw that dementia cost drop to $150, and later to $6, when she took advantage of other benefits and programs.

On Friday, she had a chance to find out what else the law had in store for her.

About 50 people gathered at Paine College to hear Anton Gunn, the Region IV director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, speak about the health care law and clear up common misconceptions.

“Most of what I hear now is interpreted through the news media, but I got to hear directly from someone close to the issue,” Wood said.

Gunn explained how the law will extend coverage to Americans by not allowing insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions or cancel coverage if a customer becomes ill.

The U.S. Supreme Court began deliberating the constitutionality of key components of the law in March, including the individual mandate requiring Americans to buy insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty. The court is expected to make a ruling in June with the presidential campaign as a backdrop.

The law will open Medicaid eligibility to individuals making less than $15,000 a year or families of four with a combined income of less than $30,000. In the past, only poor people with disabilities or children could qualify.

At least 80 percent of premiums paid by customers must now go toward direct care and not overhead costs and fees previously bloated by insurance companies, Gunn said.

And for the first time, insurance companies can’t arbitrarily raise premiums without justification.

Gunn said a common argument against the law is from people who claim these benefits will add to the country’s deficit. But a study by an independent auditor through the Congressional Budget Office found the act will actually save the nation $210 billion during the first 10 years, he said.

Gunn said most of those savings will come from preventive care, such as catching a tumor with a $150 colon screening rather than paying $300,000 for cancer treatment down the road.

“It’s not adding to the deficit of our country,” Gunn said. “Health care costs spiralling out of control is what contributes to the deficit.”

People listening to Gunn included those without health insurance curious about what the law will mean for them and those with coverage who wondered what might change.

Sheila Maynard directs Friends for Better Health, a health education program that teaches people about taking care of health conditions with natural remedies. Maynard chooses not to have health insurance because she focuses on preventive care and takes care of her body. So she was concerned that a forced mandate would make her pay for insurance she didn’t need.

After speaking with Gunn, she got a little peace of mind.

“I don’t want to pay a whole bunch because I don’t feel I need it,” Maynard said. “But I understand it more now. I wanted to be clear in what the coverage would be.”

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