Government, health care professionals address concerns about Affordable Care Act

Tony Ornelas (Courtney Pedroza/DD)
National Association of Hispanic Nurses Phoenix chapter President Tony Ornelas received a leadership award at Saturday’s conference. Speakers at the conference, a partnership with AARP Arizona, discussed national healthcare legislation such as Medicare, Social Security and the Affordable Care Act. (Courtney Pedroza/DD)

The Phoenix chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, in partnership with AARP Arizona, held a conference Saturday outlining the new national health care legislation.

The conference, titled “Understanding Medicare, Social Security, and the Affordable Care Act,” was held at the ASU Nursing and Healthcare Innovation II building. Speakers included NAHN Phoenix chapter President Tony Ornelas, AARP Director of Community Outreach David Parra and Department of Health and Human Services Region IX Director Herb K. Schultz.

The looming health care reform prompted Ornelas to put the event in context.

“With such a landmark piece of legislation beginning to take place, it’s important we as a community are informed so we can adjust to the changes in the system,” Ornelas said.

Parra spoke about Medicare and Social Security, explaining to younger audience members how AARP works.

“We’re always advocating for legislation that could help our members, and looking out for legislation that could hurt them,” Parra said. “We’re 37 million strong and looking to expand.”

After fielding questions from elderly audience members, Parra addressed concerns about the Affordable Care Act’s online marketplaces. The website’s setbacks after its launch have been a major concern for those who have lost their current coverage and could end up uninsured if they aren’t able to sign up before the Dec. 23 deadline to be covered on Jan. 1, 2014.

“Social Security and Medicare are improving their websites like crazy. Mark my words, in five years, will be a top-notch website.” Parra added with a laugh, “Of course, I could be wrong, and I have been wrong before.”

He said there is a lot of misinformation about the act, popularly known as “Obamacare,” and who it will benefit. Because the system’s functions are so new, many people are confused about how to sign up and why they should.

“We are very busy educating both Hispanics and non-Hispanics some of the basic concepts of what an insurance policy is, we explain to them the coverage, the premium, the deductible,” Parra said. “It’s a big job, but I think we’re making good progress.”

Schultz was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010 to direct Health and Human Services Region IX, which includes California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, minor outlying islands and U.S. territories. He addressed the Affordable Care Act’s relevance to Arizona parents, students, healthcare professionals and aspiring nurses and doctors.

The Student Health Plan Provision will cap plans initiated before 2014 at $500,000, while plans on or after Jan. 1 will have no limit, Schultz said. This applies to students who are on their parents’ plans, which they have the right to do until they turn 26.

He said premiums will be reduced via tax credits and Medicaid will be expanded in some states. Whether or not Arizona will be included in Medicaid expansion has yet to be determined.

Schultz had good news for small business owners.

“There is a myth that small businesses will face a tax burden under the new law. That’s false,” Schultz said. “The law makes the individual buyer responsible for having their own health insurance, and does not require them to purchase uniform coverage for their employees.”

He said the Affordable Care Act website is working fine, with 70,000 people in Arizona having already applied. However, Schultz said there are “a million uninsured Arizonans” who have until the March 31, 2014 deadline to sign up.

Both Parra and Schultz stressed the transparency of their organizations and encouraged attendees to reach out for help with enrollment and planning their health care portfolio.

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Correction: Dec. 19, 2013

A paragraph previously attributed information about part-time and full-time employees to Herb K. Schultz that he did not discuss during his presentation. That paragraph has been removed to reflect the actual discussions during the conference.