In response to new federal health care laws that took effect Wednesday, an Edmond church is embracing a new mission to enroll uninsured Oklahoma consumers in affordable coverage offered in the new federally run online health insurance marketplace, while the Oklahoma State Chamber prepares to launch a private exchange to offer employers cost-controlling options.
Starting Jan. 8, the First United Methodist Church of Edmond will host free classes on the Affordable Care Act to interested people every Wednesday evening throughout January. At the same time, the State Chamber plans to open a private insurance marketplace for employers of two or more by March 31 or sooner.
Starting this year, Americans are required by law to carry health insurance — or pay penalty taxes on their 2014 tax returns. Meanwhile, employers of 25 or fewer who buy insurance through a companion marketplace for employers, and have average annual salaries of $50,000 or less, can claim tax credits of up to 50 percent of their costs for two years.
For its informational classes, First UMC Edmond will bring together ministers, an insurance industry professional and an outreach and enrollment coordinator of the Oklahoma Primary Care Association, the trade association for community health centers statewide. Church leaders plan an introductory informational class, followed by a hands-on enrollment class, a class focused on small employers and a final class to enroll individuals and employers.
Lay member Vicki Toombs, director of business development for third-party administrator Advantage Health Plans Trust, suggested the outreach.
“There's a need within a one-mile radius of this church,” said Toombs, referencing the surrounding neighborhood of lower-income homeowners and a nearby apartment building largely occupied by single-parent families.
Don Vaught, minister of discipleship and biblical studies, is more than eager to help meet the need.
“We deal with a lot of folks who are one episode away from bankruptcy, which is the biggest peril to children,” Vaught said.
“The bottom line,” said Senior Pastor Bertha Potts, “is Jesus teaches us to care about everybody, and this is a pathway to follow his teaching. This (the Affordable Care Act) is a new thing, and we shouldn't be afraid because God promises to be with us and anchor us,” she said.
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Free classes on the Affordable Care Act and hands-on enrollment assistance for buying health insurance 6:15 to 8 p.m., every Wednesday in January, Jan. 8 through Jan. 29. Held at Christian Activity Center, just north of the First United Methodist Church of Edmond at 305 E Hurd. Free child care available. For more information, call 424-2282 or (800) 454-4412.