Effects of new healthcare law still uncertain

Published 11:07 pm Friday, October 4, 2013

With the Oct. 1 launch of the Health Insurance Marketplaces under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, citizens aren’t the only ones trying to figure out how the law will affect healthcare.

In Chilton County, physicians are examining the implications of more of their patients having health insurance in the coming weeks and months.

Dr. Jon Binkerd, M.D., a general surgeon with Chilton Surgical Associates, said he is hopeful the new law will help previously non-insured patients—especially those in emergency rooms—afford potentially expensive, but necessary, surgical procedures.

“I’m a general surgeon, so when someone calls me, it’s usually not something optional,” Binkerd said. “I have to work on it either way, whether they pay me or not.”

Starting Oct. 1, the Health Insurance Marketplace was officially open to allow citizens to enroll in health coverage online, buy more affordable health insurance, compare qualified health plans and get answers to questions regarding health insurance.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, 642,738 Alabamians (16 percent of the total population) are uninsured and eligible for coverage through the Marketplace.

Of the uninsured and eligible:

•441,701 (69 percent) have a full-time worker in the family.

•266,399 (41 percent) are 19–34 years old.

•367,897 (57 percent) are white.

•226,366 (35 percent) are black.

•32,405 (5 percent) are Latino/Hispanic.

•4,194 (1 percent) are Asian American or Pacific Islander.

•344,256 (54 percent) are male.

The website stated 608,430 (95 percent) of Alabama’s uninsured and eligible population may qualify for either tax credits to purchase coverage in the Marketplace or for Medicaid if the state takes advantage of the new opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, but Gov. Robert Bentley has said Alabama will not.

In addition, Alabama has received $9,772,451 in grants for research, planning, information technology development and implementation of its Health Insurance Marketplace.

Binkerd said he has heard other healthcare professionals voice concerns about having to perform the same services for less pay than they received before the Affordable Care Act went into effect.

“One of the big concerns is how can we afford to pay these doctors to see patients,” Binkerd said. “A lot of times, [patients] won’t [see doctors]. They’ll see nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants. Surgeons don’t really have that option.

“For us, it’s a little bit different story than for everybody else,” he said. “Generally, amongst surgeons, a lot of our stuff is not optional. We have to work either way, and it would be nice to get something.”

As of Friday, the following message appeared on the enrollment ‘Log in’ page of Healthcare.gov: “We have a lot of visitors on the site right now. Please stay on this page. We’re working to make the experience better, and we don’t want you to lose your place in line. We’ll send you to the login page as soon as we can.”

The website said those wanting to enroll might have faster access at the Marketplace call center and to call 1-800-318-2596 to talk with a trained representative about applying over the phone.