Sewell sits out Demopolis Obamacare workshop

An estimated 150 people were in attendance Tuesday morning at a workshop held by the staff of Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL). A press release from Sewell’s office sent last week announced that the congresswoman would be hosting the event at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital as a marketplace education and enrollment workshop for the hotly debated Affordable Care Act.

“This is not a debate of the law,” Melinda Williams, moderator of the event and a member of Sewell’s staff from the Montgomery office, told attendees at the beginning of the session.

Williams then played an introductory video from Sewell before announcing that the Representative of the 7th Congressional District could not be in attendance at the event.

“The congresswoman is in Washington D.C. and not able to be with us today,” Williams said.

In her prerecorded piece, Sewell stated that she fully supported the Affordable Care Act and expressed her pleasure with the legislation’s impact on her constituents.

“On Oct. 1, enrollment for the ACA started. And while not a perfect bill, I have been a supporter of the Affordable Care Act since it started,” Sewell said via recorded message. “I am proud of the benefits that so many of my constituents have received as a result of this legislation. The 15 percent of Alabamians who were previously uninsured, now have access to quality, affordable healthcare. Every Alabamian deserves access to quality, affordable healthcare. I’ve always believed that healthcare in America should be a right and not a privilege.”

Following the video, Jim Carnes of Alabama Arise led a group of advocates and specialists who spent the duration of the morning informing attendees of how to enroll in the newly-minted healthcare marketplace.

“We have gotten accustomed to a system in which most people here in Alabama get health insurance through their workplace. We’ve just gotten used to the fact that a whole bunch of folks don’t have something to fall back on,” Carnes said in his opening remarks. “The Affordable Care Act, the big wooly Obamacare, is designed to tackle that problem.”

Carnes briefly addressed the debate and ballyhoo that came in the wake of the legislation, chipping in his assessment of the confusion created by the discourse.

“There were rumors, there were myths, there were facts all mixed up. A lot of people walked away not knowing what’s going on. A lot of people still don’t know what’s going on,” Carnes said.

Carnes went on to address exactly what citizens must do to qualify for insurance under the new healthcare law.

“Most people don’t have to do anything,” Carnes said. “For those who get their healthcare through their work, there’s nothing you have to do differently.”

The statement was made to a diverse crowd consisting of both uninsured, those on Medicaid assistance and others who have recently received communication that their monthly premiums will increase astronomically in the wake of Obamacare.

“Medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in our state and in our country today,” Carnes said. “The basic concept is, this creates a way for people who are not insured to get discounts in order to buy private health insurance coverage. These discounts are based on income and family size. The healthcare law set up three or four ways for people to take part in this coverage.”

Carnes also indicated that the new legislation requires that all insurance policies must cover a list of 10 benefits.

“All insurance policies are now going to have to cover these 10 essential benefits,” Carnes said as he motioned to a posted Power Point graphic that included Ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder services, prescription drugs, rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices, laboratory services, preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management, pediatric: including oral and vision care.

Among other things, Carnes addressed questions related to the penalties levied upon those who choose not to enroll in the healthcare marketplace set up by the Affordable Care Act.

“People who choose not to enroll, are still going to be outside the system either by choice or by ignorance of not having heard about it. Those people will still coast along and probably misuse the ER. They’ll probably overuse it up front with a sore throat or they’ll wait and go when (the problem) is extremely expensive,” Carnes said. “There is a penalty. It starts small. The first year it’s rather small and then it increases pretty rapidly.”

Carnes said such a penalty would be levied on an individual’s income taxes, but could not speak to assurances and safeguards put in place to guarantee that those who do either do not pay taxes or do not pay the penalty would be addressed accordingly.