Seminar will shed light on health care reform

The Affordable Care Act (also known as health care reform or Obamacare) was passed into law in March 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court in July 2012. Some provisions, such as children staying on their parents' insurance up to age 26 and prescription drug discounts to help close the "doughnut hole" for Medicare seniors, started immediately.

The biggest changes under the Affordable Care Act are set to begin Jan. 1. Do you know how the new health care law will affect you?

Plan to attend an informational session at noon Wednesday at the Ellis County Extension office, 601 Main. Enter the rear door from the north parking lot; bring a lunch if desired.

Speakers are three Extension family and consumer sciences agents: Donna Krug, Barton County; Jamie Rathbun, Midway District; and myself. We will attempt to shed some light on the complexities of the Affordable Care Act and provide consumer resources for more information from Kansas State Research and Extension and the Kansas insurance commissioner.

The noon-hour program is free and open to the public. Please pre-register by calling (785) 628-9430 to ensure adequate materials and supplies. A minimum attendance is needed to hold the program.

On Oct. 1, the newest phase of the Affordable Care Act began with the opening of the health insurance marketplace. Now uninsured Kansans will have options for health insurance they've never had before. The marketplace is a new way to find and buy health insurance. Individuals can shop for health insurance that fits their budget. There is financial help for some limited-income individuals and families. There is assistance available to help you choose the best coverage for your needs.

Still, many people are confused about how insurance will change. Those who are already eligible for public programs such as Medicare, Kancare, Tri-Care and the Veterans Administration system will stay in those programs. Most who get health insurance through work will continue to do so. And for those who didn't have health insurance before, or had inadequate or very expensive health insurance, there will be new options to purchase insurance. Health insurance is required; purchasing through the marketplace is not required. However, the marketplace is the only place to get the tax credits and cost-sharing reductions for those with limited incomes.

With the Affordable Care Act, farm families have new options, too. On the whole, farm families have been big purchasers of health insurance. Being insured protects the family farm, but because farming is such a high-risk occupation, premiums and deductibles have been very high.

The Affordable Care Act changes that. The way premiums now will be set cannot factor in costs associated with high-risk occupations nor with pre-existing conditions. The new law makes it more likely that farm families will be able to purchase less-expensive coverage.

Whether you are uninsured, you have been denied coverage in the past, or you just want to explore new options, the new Affordable Care Act Marketplace will give you more choices and control over your health coverage. The 6-month open enrollment period beg ends March 31. If you select a plan by Dec. 15, that plan will begin Jan. 1.

There is more to know so that you can decide what's best for you. Plan to attend Wednesday's informative session at the Ellis County Extension to learn more.

Linda Beech is a Kansas State University Research & Extension agent in Ellis County specializing in family and consumer sciences. lbeech@ksu.edu