Church Health’s Role During 2018 Open Enrollment

Nov 1, 2017 | Dr. Scott Morris, Healthcare, Healthcare Reform

Today is the first day of 2018 open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act Marketplace exchanges. This year, the period only lasts six weeks, and there has been almost no government-sponsored advertising for people who are uninsured to know about it. There are far fewer healthcare navigators this year than there were last year to help people find the path to insurance that is right for them.

This lack of support for the process is one of the many ways the current administration is slowly trying to kill the ACA.

One of the issues much discussed by the media is the rate increases that have arisen because of the decrease in government subsidies to the insurance companies that would have kept their rate increases down. Without the subsidy, many insurance rates have risen by 40% or more. Ironically, the law is written so that patients will not have to pay the increase if they are eligible for an individual subsidy; the government will pick up the added cost. So, by not increasing the payments directly to insurance companies, the government has caused an added increase in premiums which the government will now pay on the back end as a result of the lack of payments on the front end. What a mess.

Of course, simply having insurance does not guarantee quality healthcare. The deductibles remain high, and the number of doctors who accept the insurance is “narrow,” meaning that the doctor who’s able to accept a patient’s Exchange product might not be the appropriate physician for the patient’s needs.

These issues go on and on, and sadly, there is no end in sight.

The ACA open enrollment period in Tennessee and the south is a tantalizing shell game for most working poor people, including 90% of the people we care for at Church Health. If the patient’s income is below 100% of the federal poverty level (roughly $12/hour for a family of four), the person will be directed to apply for Medicaid in their state after they’ve applied for Exchange subsidies. But since no state in the south has expanded Medicaid except for Arkansas, the entire process is pointless and heart-wrenching for most people. It is for this reason that repealing “Obamacare” would have little impact on the poor in the 19 states that did not expand Medicaid.

The politics of all of this is mean and brutal, which is why Church Health is committed to the belief that it is indeed the role of the faith community to provide healthcare for the people who fall through this very wide crack in the fabric of our society. This issue is at the heart of every major world religion. For Christians, one third of the gospel focuses on healing. To follow Jesus means caring for the health needs of those who have nowhere else to turn, including the millions of American citizens and undocumented workers who don’t have access to affordable healthcare. They are our neighbors.

For the next six weeks of open enrollment, Church Health’s HAT Team (Healthcare Advisory Team) will be working to enroll people who qualify for coverage through the ACA, Medicaid or Medicare. The team will also help those who do not qualify by helping them become patients here at Church Health, where we charge on a sliding scale and provide the same quality of care I would expect for my mother.

It is a sad time we are in when it comes to expecting our government to care for the most vulnerable people in our society. But it is a time of opportunity for people of faith to answer the call God has set before us to care for those least among us. I believe we are up for the challenge. If we are not, then we will need to answer to God for failing to do what God has clearly set before us.

For free ACA open enrollment assistance, call Church Health’s Healthcare Advisory Team at 901-272-7526. Learn more at churchhealth.org/navigate.

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