Edmond church, Oklahoma chamber respond to new health care laws

The First United Methodist Church of Edmond launches a monthlong outreach effort on the Affordable Care Act, while The Oklahoma State Chamber prepares to launch a new private health insurance exchange for employers.
by Paula Burkes Modified: January 4, 2014 at 3:00 pm •  Published: January 4, 2014

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.

Reaching out

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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by Paula Burkes
Reporter
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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At a glance

HEALTH REFORM MANDATES THAT TOOK EFFECT JAN. 1

Insurers can't deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

Most residents must have health insurance or pay penalty taxes on their 2014 tax returns. This new tax is the greater of $95 or 1 percent of income in 2014, $325 or 2 percent of income in 2015 and $695 or 2.5 percent of income in 2016.

Residents between 100 percent of the federal poverty level ($11,490 for 2013, or $31,322 for a family of four) and 400 percent ($23,550, or $94,200 for a family of four) who buy health insurance through Oklahoma's federally run exchange will be eligible for variable tax credits based on annual income and family size.

Small group employers with 25 or fewer employees (with an average wage of less than $50,000 a year) who buy group insurance in the new Small-business Health Options Program (only paper applications are available) may claim tax credits of up to 50 percent of the employer's cost (up to 35 percent for small nonprofit organizations) for the first two years they offer coverage through Oklahoma's federally-run state exchange.

LAWS ALREADY IN EFFECT

Insurers may not deny coverage to a dependent child younger than age 19 because of pre-existing conditions. People who have pre-existing conditions and who've been without coverage for at least six months may obtain coverage through a temporary federal high-risk health insurance pool that ends Dec. 31.

Insurers may not impose lifetime coverage limits and, until 2014, may set only restricted annual limits for comprehensive health benefits, including mental health and substance abuse.

Insurers must cover A- and B-level preventive services such as screenings and immunizations, recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, with no co-payments or deductibles.

Children who don't receive health care coverage from employers can stay on their parents' plans to age 26, regardless of marital or student status.

A new 80/20 loss-ratio rule requires health insurers to spend no more than 20 percent of customer premiums on administration.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

If you go

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.

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