By Starla Muhammad and Eric Ture Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
CHICAGO – The March 31 deadline for uninsured Americans to enroll in health insurance through the Affordable Healthcare Act dubbed “Obamacare” has come and gone. But questions about President Barack Obama’s signature legislation remain along with criticism about “extensions” to mid-April for those who did not meet the March deadline.
At Final Call presstime, over 6 million people had signed up for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace website, according to HealthCare.gov. Obama administration officials set an original goal of 7 million.
Up until midnight March 31 the administration and individual state operated health care online marketplaces worked at a blistering pace to enroll as many people as possible. Celebrity tweets, social media postings, print ads and endless commercials targeting Black and Latino communities announced the final days and benefits of enrolling. New campaigns, goals and eventually deadlines were revamped in efforts to make healthcare a reality for many who were previously shut out.
“African-Americans will benefit greatly from the Affordable Care Act as a disproportionate percentage of Blacks will become newly eligible for health care coverage,” said Thomas Duncan, CEO of Trusted Health Plans, Inc. in Washington, D.C. Trusted Health Plans is the only operating majority-owned Black Medicaid managed care organization in the U.S.
“But now, Obamacare will open the door to preventive care, primary care, and strategic specialty care for millions of African-Americans and others,” added Mr. Duncan.
Those who are already insured through employers or federal programs like Medicare or Medicaid are not required to sign up for the Affordable Care Act.
Those who are uninsured, but can afford health insurance and choose not to buy it through the ACA will face an “individual shared responsibility payment” penalty. The penalty in 2014 is 1 percent of yearly income or $95 per person for the year, whichever is greater and the fee increases each year, according to Healthcare.gov. Payment would be due when federal taxes are filed.
Certain factors may offer exemptions from penalties including: The lowest-priced coverage available to you would cost more than 8 percent of your household income or you’re uninsured for less than 3 months of the year.
There are also hardship exemptions for those that missed the March 31 deadline including: You were homeless, you received a shut-off notice from a utility company or you were determined ineligible for Medicaid because your state didn’t expand eligibility for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. A complete list of exemptions and how to apply for exemptions is available onwww.healthcare.gov/exemptions.
The next opportunity for open enrollment is not until November.
Reactions from critics of the ACA, coming mainly from Republicans since the rollout of the program, remained divisive and combative. “What the hell is this, a joke?” Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) was quoted as saying at a March 26 press conference. He was responding to the Obama administration decision to extend the deadline for those who began signing up for the ACA by phone or online but are not able to complete the process by March 31. They will not lose their place “in line” for coverage.
Mr. Boehner accused the president, a constitutional lawyer, of “manipulating the law.”
“For those who are considered ‘in-line’ we don’t know the number of consumers who may be in line so we’re planning enough flexibility to be able to handle everyone in line—it could take a few days, it could take a week or so to work through that. If a consumer is applying for a special enrollment, that will vary,” said an e-mail response from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to The Final Call.
In addition to bi-partisan splits on the ACA, views also vary along racial lines. According to the Pew Research Center 77 percent of Blacks approve of the law while only 18 percent disapprove. Yet among Whites only 33 percent approve compared to 62 percent disapproval. Latinos were evenly divided with 47 percent approving and disapproving of the ACA.
Much of the divide is blamed on lack of basic understanding about the law. But the constant undercurrent of a Black president enacting legislation that specifically expands health benefits to the poor is viewed by many as another reason for such fierce opposition.
“The reason that they (Republicans) are so opposed to it is because it moves toward leveling the playing field of life,” said Ava Muhammad, attorney and student national spokesperson of the Nation of Islam and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, during a March 28 presentation on the merits of the ACA.
The Student Executive Council of the Nation of Islam presented the special Friday evening presentation at Mosque Maryam to outline general information about the ACA to members of the Nation of Islam and the community. The program was also available via webcast.
“This is why the president is being called a Marxist and a Socialist by White extreme racists and by their Negro minions because what he is doing is taking a step toward the beginning of the end of the insurance industry,” added Atty. Muhammad
In addition to Atty. Muhammad presenters included Mustapha Farrakhan, student Supreme Captain of the Nation of Islam; and Derian King of the Robbins Insurance Agency, Inc., a Chicago-based Black female owned business started in 1947.
The ACA gives the chance for people who had no means to go to the doctor before, a chance for preventative healthcare for themselves and their families which is particularly critical for Blacks who suffer disproportionately from health problems, presenters noted.
For more information about the Affordable Care Act including eligibility, exemptions and penalties, visit http://www.healthcare.gov