Group discusses changes to federal health care

A Louisiana health care group took its membership campaign to Lafayette on Thursday, promising to help its members understand and navigate the federal health care requirements that are months away.

The Louisiana Healthcare Education Coalition, a nonprofit affiliated with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, gathered a group of about 60 people for a presentation about the benefits of joining the coalition. The presentation was at the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, or LITE Center.

John H. Maginnis, vice president of corporate communications at Blue Cross, said there is a “huge information void” in the country and Louisiana about the federal Affordable Care Act.

The opening of health insurance exchanges, where the uninsured can purchase hospitalization policies from insurance cooperatives that have pre-qualified with the federal government, is three months away. Maginnis said Blue Cross is one of four insurance companies in the health insurance exchange in Louisiana.

The coalition was created by Blue Cross, and is recruiting a number of people and entities, including small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, churches, health care providers and patient advocacy groups.

Among its members are the Bunkie Chamber of Commerce, the Committee for a Better New Orleans, Blanchard Church of the Nazarene, Hospice of Acadiana and the Jefferson Community Health Care Centers. New Iberia Mayor Hilda Curry, also president of the Louisiana Municipal Association, said the LMA will join the coalition.

The coalition says its main mission is to educate and provide information to the public. But there were a few questions Maginnis and Dr. Rodney Wise, medical director for Blue Cross, were unable to answer Thursday.

One college administrator at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette asked Wise what she should tell her students about the health care changes and what they mean to 18- to 22-year-olds who in the past could go to University Medical Center for treatment if they had no insurance.

Wise said many questions about the law remain unanswered. He said more information about the mechanics of how things will work could be available by the time the insurance exchanges go into service in October.

Maginnis was asked how Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to take more federal Medicaid dollars for expanded health care under the law would affect the program. Maginnis did not answer the question.

LHEC, which formed in March in Baton Rouge, answers general questions on its website, www.lhec.net, including:

Will insurance premiums go up for policy holders?

Yes, for most people. Part of the reason is that insurance companies cannot charge different rates for people of different ages, which means younger, healthier people will subsidize older people who see doctors more often, LHEC said.

Will people be forced to purchase health insurance, and what if they do not?

Everyone is required to have insurance, according to LHEC, with a minimum penalty of $95 per adult in 2014, which could increase to the cap of $695 per adult or 2½ percent of wages.

LHEC signed up its 100th coalition member May 30. On Thursday it signed up five more members who filled out the paperwork at LITE, said Ryan Sinitiere, a field coordinator with LHEC.

He said the number of Lafayette LHEC members could grow as more people and organizations joined via the organization’s website.