WILKES-BARRE — A fact-finding hearing Thursday held by a panel of state lawmakers confirmed their positions that the federal Affordable Care Act is necessary and a move that benefits not only the uninsured but also health care providers and the overall population.
The 90-minute public session at Wilkes University was chaired by state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, and attended by seven other members of the state House Democratic Policy Committee.
“The Affordable Care Act is the first major courageous step towards addressing an issue that affects all of us at some time throughout our life,” Pashinski said.
He acknowledged the act, often referred to as Obamacare, as the signature achievement of President Barack Obama’s first term, isn’t perfect, but aims to provide affordable and subsidized coverage and control health care costs.
The benefits couldn’t be overstated, said Dr. Steven Pierdon, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Geisinger Northeast. Geisinger Health System, an integrated organization providing insurance and care, supports the overall concepts of the act, Pierdon said, reading from a prepared statement.
“The reality is that we need health care reform. The delivery of health care, both historically and currently, is not sustainable,” Pierdon said, one of three speakers who addressed the panel.
Pierdon said Geisinger has established an electronic health record system, a component of the act, and is participating in the private health insurance marketplaces or exchanges in which consumers, without fear of being turned away for pre-existing conditions, can shop for coverage among its 26 plans. The exchanges were opened on Oct. 1. Consumers have until Dec. 15 to sign up in order to be covered on Jan. 1, 2014. Enrollment runs until March 31. For those signing up in January or February coverage starts the following month.
Regular preventative care is preferred to having uninsured people seek treatment in the emergency room, Pierdon explained. Often providers aren’t compensated for that care that is more expensive and at a higher level than if patients visited a primary care doctor and had prescription drug coverage, he added.
Another component of the act, expanding Medicaid, the combined state and federal program that pays for health care coverage for low-income, disabled and others, would reduce Geisinger’s uncompensated charity care and allow uninsured people to shop on the exchanges, Pierdon said.
But the state, particularly Gov. Tom Corbett, has been slow to make sure residents benefit fully from the act, said Athena Smith Ford, advocacy director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network. The non-partisan coalition’s goal is to ensure all Pennsylvanians have access to quality, affordable health care, she said.
Corbett has refused to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid and instead proposed a plan similar to what’s in place in Arkansas and Iowa, whereby people would be given private coverage using federal funds, she said. Those states took more than a year to put their plans in place, and Pennsylvania shouldn’t delay while is federal funds are readily available under the act, she said.
Another advocate of the act, Rose Yanko, 46, a licensed practical nurse from Wilkes-Barre, called for the expansion of Medicaid. The single mother of two adult daughters said she went without health insurance and will soon get it under her new employer.
“Falling through the cracks through the past four years, I put my own medical problems in the back of my mind while I took care of other people,” she said.