Panelists probe Affordable Care Act

The Act could benefit 45,000 Rhode Islanders, but 120,000 remain uninsured in the state

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, November 15, 2013

A panel of experts explored the benefits and problems the Affordable Care Act has posed for Rhode Islanders, focusing specifically on more vulnerable populations, at an event hosted by Health Leads last night.

Rhode Island is one of 27 states to have opted into the law’s expansion of Medicaid, despite the 2012 Supreme Court ruling that this expansion is not required.

“We’re forging ahead in offering that coverage,” said panelist Linda Katz, policy director and co-founder of the Economic Progress Institute and Chair of Rite Care Consumer Advisory Council.

About 45,000 Rhode Islanders could benefit from the expanded coverage, which for the first time is now offered to currently uninsured childless adults, Katz said. There are currently an estimated 120,000 uninsured individuals in the state, 110,000 of whom are adults, she said.

According to state data, about 4,400 people have completed applications for insurance through the new state marketplace for health insurance. About 75 percent of the applicants signed up for the expanded Medicaid plan.

Many Rhode Islanders who are not eligible for Medicaid will qualify for federal tax credits to help them afford more comprehensive insurance programs through the Health Source Rhode Island state health care exchange, Katz said.

“People really aren’t going to be able to buy skimpy plans anymore,” she said. “We want broad coverage, and we want people to be able to use preventative services.”

“Rhode Island is really leading the way” in implementing the Affordable Care Act, said panelist Lisa Opdycke GS, a graduate student at the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions.

Though most states rely on the federal health care exchange system, which has suffered significant technical problems since its Oct. 1 opening, Rhode Island has developed its own health care exchange to prepare for the implementation of the new policy, Opdycke said. While most states rely on the Internal Revenue Service, Rhode Island uses a state system for income verification, which enabled the state to continue its verification process during the government shutdown, she added.

But 6,000 parents in Rhode Island will lose their current health care coverage when the Affordable Care Act comes into effect in January, Katz said. Toward the end of the legislative session, the Rhode Island General Assembly decided to “roll back” parent eligibility, forcing parents who were previously insured through Rite Care, a state program that offers coverage to low-income families, to seek new coverage through Health Source Rhode Island, she said.

“None of these families have ever had to pay anything out of pocket” for their health care, Katz said. So far, the state has not offered any support to families who will need to adjust to paying monthly premiums, she added.

Panelist Ira Wilson, chair of the Department of Health Services, Policy and Practice, said Rhode Island has the fourth highest ratio of physicians per population of any state in the country.

“We’re blessed with a lot of providers, and we’re a small state,” he said. But whether people across the state, particularly those living in low-income neighborhoods, will take advantage of the relative accessibility of health care remains to be seen, he said.