Wilkes pharmacy students assist with ObamaCare sign-ups

Jonathan Keer, Staff Writer

Wilkes University pharmacy students recently became involved with an event that helped people sign up for “ObamaCare” at the last minute.

ObamaCare is the unofficial name for The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law on March 23, 2010. ObamaCare’s health care reform does a number of important things including offering Americans a number of new benefits, rights and protections in regards to their healthcare and setting up a health insurance marketplace where Americans can purchase federally regulated and subsidized health insurance.

The six-month long period to sign up for ObamaCare ended March 31, but people who started the sign-up process by then had extra time to finish. The Obama administration officials liken the process to an election. If you get in line before the polls close, you’ll be allowed to vote.

The easiest ways people could sign up were by going to HealthCare.gov, shop and enroll. Also, a person could enroll by using a paper application. The new healthcare gives more people a chance to apply. The Affordable Care Act provides federal subsidies on a sliding scale, based on income. HealthCare.gov has a chart showing the income levels, based on family size.

However, signing up for the Affordable Care Act is more difficult for some than others. Initially, there were issues with the webpage that gave people difficulties signing up. Even after fixing the page, it was still intimidating for folks to sign up on.

Wilkes became involved through Dr. Edward Foote coordinating the school to team up with The Commonwealth Medical College to help members of the community sign up for the Affordable Care Act. Three sessions were held; two were at the Volunteers in Medicine clinic and the third one was held at Wilkes University.

A private room was set up with a computer that had access to the healthcare.gov website. Three primary companies are offering plans with numerous options from each, lasting about an hour to sign up.

Foote has a close relationship with faculty at the Commonwealth Medical College. When he found out they were working on an outreach event for ObamaCare, Foote became interested. He asked students to help volunteer and about 10 pharmacy students stepped up and helped.

“Commonwealth Medical College was working on an Affordable Care Act outreach event with their medical students and I thought it would be good to make it interprofessional, so they asked me to recruit pharmacy students to help,” Foote said. “We did one program there and then I started thinking that this sort of service is needed in Luzerne County as well. So, I started organizing some events with the Advocacy Alliance offering the program.”

The Affordable Care Act has programs for people of all variety to sign up for. Being so difficult for certain people to understand and lack of ability to find affordable health care, Foote’s volunteers helped people with difficulties signing up apply.

“It is amazing how many people in this country have no access to affordable health care,” the professor said. “There are many, many people who work but just can’t afford the high cost of health insurance or health care services. Signing up for the Affordable Care Act is not easy. Even when the webpage was fixed, it is still really intimidating. The pharmacy students sat with these folks and helped them navigate their choices. The volunteers did a great job helping the people out.”

One of those volunteers, Jaclyn Palummo, was directed to the program by being offered a self-directed IPPE by Foote to become a volunteer.

“As a student, my role was to sit down with the patient, start the application process, pick a suitable health care plan and eventually finish the application,” Palummo said. “It felt really great knowing you put that smile on their face when they left, because they could now afford their own health care.”

Foote explained that there were different programs for the poor and elderly, such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Medicaid pays bills from federal, state and local tax funds. It serves low-income people of every age. Patients usually pay no part of costs for covered medical expenses. A small co-payment is sometimes required. It is a federal-state program that varies state to state.

Medicare is an insurance program. Medical bills are paid from trust funds which those covered have paid into. It serves people over 65 primarily, whatever their income.

It also serves younger disabled people and dialysis patients. Patients pay part of costs through deductibles for hospital and other costs.

Small monthly premiums are required for non-hospital coverage. Medicare is a federal program It is basically the same everywhere in the United States and is run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency of the federal government.

This new plan benefits people who could not afford any health care originally. Some people dropped from $300 a month to $40 a month for premium health care plans.

During the course of the three sessions, Wilkes University students helped more than 40 individuals apply for the more affordable health care.