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NNY agencies help people understand the Affordable Care Act

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Having previously been uninsured, Charlie B. Merrick said he understands the struggles faced by people who don’t have health insurance.

Something to come along, such as the Affordable Care Act, to give everyone an opportunity to have that insurance sounds like a blessing, he said, but he remains skeptical about the plan.

“Conceptually, it’s great for everyone to have insurance,” he said during a health care reform news conference Thursday at the Northern Regional Center for Independent Living. “I don’t think this is going to work. I think we’re creating a program that in 20, 30 or 40 years down the road our kids and grandkids will have a nonsustainable program.”

Mr. Merrick, NRCIL’s special education program director, attended the news conference, which was run by Community Health Advocates, a program offered through AIDS Community Resources, Syracuse. Steve Wood, the program’s community health coordinator, said Community Health Advocates exists to help sort out questions both skeptics and believers have about the act, also known as Obamacare.

“This is a landmark law for us, a particular benefit to the middle class,” he said. “This is a law created to benefit working individuals.”

Mr. Wood said most clients seeking help through Community Health Advocates either are on unemployment, receive Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act benefits or soon will have COBRA benefits end. People who are on public assistance already receive Medicaid benefits, he said.

“We will see what it looks like as time marches on,” Mr. Wood said.

According to a Community Health Advocates news release, more federal health care changes will affect thousands of people beginning Jan. 1. Changes already implemented for people who have health care include addition of coverage for preventive screenings and immunizations.

Hundreds of insurance options will be available through a state-run health insurance exchange, and open enrollment begins Oct. 1. Mr. Wood said more people will be eligible for Medicaid, and physicians will be more likely to accept Medicaid patients because reimbursement is expected to increase.

“It’s an exciting time for health care reform,” he said.

Since the Affordable Care Act will require people to have health insurance, there will be penalties for those who choose not to have health insurance, unless exclusions apply.

Although many people may not fully grasp the Affordable Care Act and how it will affect them directly, Mr. Wood said, he went through the nearly 3,000-page document to help people become familiar with how it will change their life, if at all.

Community Health Advocates services are free to everyone, and consultations may be set up by calling AIDS Community Resources at 475-2430.

Meanwhile, the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce recently received an $80,000 grant from the Community Service Society of New York to explain the Affordable Care Act to people and business owners in the north country. Through that grant, the chamber will launch a 16-week community health program to offer free workshops and services in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

Help is also available through the Community Health Advocates program through the North Country Prenatal/Perinatal Council.

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