Lena Mitchell

LENA MITCHELL

In less than two weeks, beginning Oct. 15, 2019 and ending Dec. 7, 2019, individuals who are enrolled in Medicare supplemental health insurance plans will have the annual open enrollment period to make a new choice of health care plan.

A little more than two weeks later, everyone who is covered by a plan under the Affordable Care Act will have a six-week period from Nov. 1, 2019 to Dec. 15, 2019 to decide whether to continue with the same plan or move to a different one.

As this annual health insurance decision time approaches, Sam’s Club, the Walmart-owned warehouse club, announces that beginning this month it will offer new health care programs in its Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina stores to help customers reduce their health care costs.

The pilot program will include discounted dental care and free prescriptions for certain generic medicines, as well as telephone consultations as part of its new services. Costs to customers will range from $50 for individuals to $240 for up to six family members.

The launch of this new service by a company whose own employees have been known to qualify for tax-supported Medicaid services for low income families is significant. If successful, the company says it could expand the program to all states.

Consumers placed the cost of health care and concerns about coverage of pre-existing conditions as a top priority in their voting decisions in 2018 elections.

Many of the consumer protections mandated by the Affordable Care Act have been steadily rolled back by the Trump administration since 2017. Among those having the greatest detrimental effect have been:

• Permitting states to implement short-term coverage that meets the letter of the law, but that individuals find may not cover the services they need when they become ill and actually need to use it.

• Eliminating federal cost-sharing subsidies to insurance companies that helped reduce premium costs to consumers.

• Drastically reducing the availability of information to help consumers understand the various health care plans available to them and the costs associated with each. The administration cut the entire advertising budget by 90 percent, from $100 million per year to $10 million. Outreach, marketing and in-person navigators to work with consumers have all been virtually eliminated.

In May the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act by a vote of 234-183, which included five Republican members joining Democrats in the vote.

The legislation would:

• Protect individuals who are concerned about coverage for pre-existing conditions.

• Restore funding for outreach through marketing and the navigator program.

• Fund $200 million in grants to states to establish state-based health care marketplaces.

The U.S. Senate, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who proudly claims the nickname Grim Reaper, has not brought the legislation up for a vote.

As a state that falls at the bottom of every list of favorable health care outcomes, it is imperative that our senators – Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, press for and support a vote for legislation that will help their constituent families.

LENA MITCHELL is a retired Daily Journal reporter who continues to write a regular column. Readers can contact her at lena.mitchell.dj@gmail.com.

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