When it comes to Obamacare, the disconnect between what’s happening in Washington D.C. and what’s happening in this state could not be greater. In D.C., of course, a government shutdown looms as Republican make a no-holds-barred bid to delay or derail the president’s signature Affordable Care Act. The tone is anything but celebratory.
Here in our Washington, though, state and county officials called for celebration at a press conference this morning held to preview tomorrow’s launch of the state’s Health Benefit Exchange, the online marketplace on which the uninsured can sign up for plans that fit federal price and coverage guidelines.
“What a great day!” enthused Richard Onizuka, CEO of the new exchange. “I’m going to try to get through this without getting emotional.” He said it was hard given how long he had been working for health care reform.
“This is a landmark moment in history,” asserted state Sen. Karen Keiser, the Kent Democrat. “Think back to the 1930s with Social Security just starting. Think back to the ‘60s, when Medicaid just started. We will look back and see this as our turning point.”
The officials were obviously prepared for questions about D.C., but their strategy was to minimize events there as much as possible. “We will continue to operate,” said Onizuka, when asked whether a shutdown would affect the ramp up that begins tomorrow, with the exchange website going live at 7:30 a.m.
As far as the possibility that Republicans might succeed in their plans to stop Obamacare in its tracks, Keiser insisted that “none of it is at risk.” The Affordable Care Act “is the law, and it is going forward.”
Talking with SW after the press conference, Onizuka conceded that he couldn’t give consumers “an ironclad guarantee” that the health care plans they sign up for won’t be affected by the political skirmishes. But he painted that scenario as unlikely, given that both houses of Congress and then the president would have to sign off on a bill to that effect. Obama has already said he would veto such a bill.
So officials are moving ahead with a hard-charging plan to get people to log onto the exchange and sign up for plans. A clever advertising campaign, featuring individuals in amusingly unexpected and precarious situations, has begun (see one print ad above). The motto: “Don’t leave it to chance.”
October 16th will see the start of a 10-city bus tour, with enrollment specialists signing people up as they go. A host of enrollment events are also planned on an ongoing basis throughout the region, with people on hand to help guide consumers throughout the undoubtedly complicated process. Several libraries, community centers, health facilities and schools will have recurring hours offering help. Public Health – Seattle & King county has a website where you can find where this is happening.
A million people are uninsured in Washington state, but officials don’t expect to sign up all of them. As an excellent New York Times story yesterday elaborated upon, individuals are weighing a complex set of factors to determine whether the new plans will be an affordable and worthwhile option for them. (Those who remain uninsured will pay a penalty come tax time, but it will be fairly small the first year.)
Asked what number the state needs to hit in order to make health care reform a success, Onizuka said the state is hoping to enroll 130,000 by Jan. 1 and 280,000 by the following January.
Ground zero, apparently is south King County, much of which Keiser represents and which she said had the highest rate of uninsured in the state. Specifially in SeaTac, she said, an astonishing 30 percent of the population lacks insurance. No wonder the city is also ground zero for the battle over a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
It’s worth noting, then, that individuals making that wage will still be eligible for subsidies, which are available for those earning less than $46,000 a year (or $94,000 for a family of four).