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Getting the word out on health care reform

Troy J. Oechsner, Dr. Jaime Torres, and Joann Casado at the Impact of Health Care Reform on the Bronx event at Hostos Community College on May 6, 2011. Photo by: Linda Thrasybule.

By Linda Thrasybule

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that transformed health care policy in the U.S.

A year later, provisions in the law have been put into place, launching a number of programs that aim to lower insurance costs, improve quality of care and increase access. But what does that mean for the Bronx?

This central question was at the heart of a gathering of community leaders, local city officials, and health care professionals who came together at Hostos Community College Friday to discuss the impact of health care reform on the borough.

They urged state and local officials to reach out to community-based organizations and use novel approaches to spread the word about the changes to health care.

“We need to make a concerted effort in getting the information out,” said Carl Douglas, an official at the New York State Housing Authority, Department of Resident Support Services.

“It needs to filter down to the grassroots level,’’ he added. “That way, more folks will be able to hear about what’s going on.”

Trying to make sense of the vast information available can be daunting. Programs and initiatives are still broad in scope and vague to many. One of the most glaring challenges, say local officials, will be to explaining it in a simple, comprehensive way.

Although information regarding new programs and benefits is available on the website,, some Bronxites don’t have access to a computer. Even more challenging will be reaching out to non-English speaking communities.

The Bronx was recently ranked dead last in the 2011 County Health Rankings report, published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. An estimated 27 percent of Bronx residents are in poor or fair health, compared to 16 percent in all of New York State.

“The Bronx has extreme poor health indicators across the board,” said Joann Casado, executive director of Bronx Health Link, a source for consumers and health and human service providers on health issues facing the Bronx. “We’re dealing with a community that is sick and we don’t like being sick.”

Here are some questions you may have about health care reform:

When does the health care reform take effect?

Enrollment in health insurance plans that will be available to the uninsured and underinsured doesn’t begin until summer 2013. Over the next two years, federal and state governments will promote, advertise and explain the structure of the new health care system.

Health insurance coverage goes into effect January 2014.

What is the health insurance exchange?

Individuals, small groups and small businesses will be able to choose an affordable health insurance plan through the exchange. The exchange will be designed to be a “one-stop shopping” option to purchase health insurance, help individuals choose the right coverage within their budget, compare options and learn about public programs. The exchange is still being developed.

How do I sign up for insurance?

Contact Community Health Advocates or call (888) 614-5400 to find out what you are eligible for.

Are there health reform changes happening now?

  • Effective January 2011, seniors get a 50 percent discount on prescription drugs when they reach the coverage gap, also called the donut hole, or the point at which Medicare stops paying for prescriptions because you have spent the yearly limit of $2,840, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services). Once that happens, you have to pay for your prescriptions out of your own pocket.
  • Insurance companies can no longer drop you due to a pre-existing illness. The NY Bridge Plan is New York State’s Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan providing comprehensive coverage to those with a pre-existing medical condition who have not had insurance for at least six months and who are U.S. residents. It is available now.
  • Parents now have the option to cover their children under the age of 26 as long as the policy allows for dependent coverage.

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