By Melissa Murphy
Vacaville resident Nicole Brownell, 30, can remember a time when needing to see a doctor meant heading to an urgent-care center.
Without insurance, she would wait until she couldn't wait any longer and then deal with whichever doctor or nurse practitioner she got.
"When I didn't have (insurance), I didn't get to pick who I saw, it was just the luck of the draw," she said. "Now I can call and get in, when I had to wait before."
The reason for the change in her life makes headlines across the nation daily: the Affordable Care Act.
The deadline for signing up for insurance under the act is approaching.
That's why the Solano Coalition for Better Health and other organizations are encouraging those without health insurance, like Brownell, to sign up for Covered California, the state's arm of the federal program.
Brownell, 30, is one of many who have taken advantage of the service provided by Solano Coalition.
"It was really easy," she said, adding that she met a representative at the library and showed them a Pacific Gas & Electric bill, her Social Security card and a pay stub. "I just answered some questions and they did the work for me."
She added that her roommate had a similar experience signing up for health insurance through Covered California.
Brownell said she signed up for the insurance because it's now required under the Affordable Care Act and because she doesn't work enough hours at her job for the company to pay a portion of the insurance. Now, she pays $90 per month for health coverage through Kaiser Permanente.
Brownell, who has worked for Outback Steakhouse for eight years, earns a steady income, but the hours don't add up.
"You have to work 32 to 35 hours regularly," she said, in order to meet the requirements for health coverage. "That's hard to do when the restaurant doesn't open until 4 p.m."
She's had insurance in the past, but she's also lived without it for a time.
While Brownell is hesitant to talk about the government's involvement in requiring health-care coverage, she's relieved to have insurance now.
"There is an ease in knowing that I have it, just in case something happens," she said.
California, according to Solano Coalition for Better Health, is leading the way in implementing the new law by expanding health-care access with no-cost and low-cost health insurance through Medi-Cal and Covered California and shifting the health-care system toward prevention, to help people stay healthy.
Given that the March 31 deadline to sign up for insurance is looming, the Solano Coalition is urging people to sign up now. After the deadline, the uninsured will not have another chance until open enrollment in October.
Joanie Erickson, executive director of Solano Coalition for Better Health, said the organization is trying to get the word out about the deadline and providing help for free.
Covered California offers free preventive services and also will help find the right plan for families. Additionally, financial help is available for those who qualify.
For information on Covered California and signing up for health insurance, visit www.solanocoalition.org. To make an appointment for assistance, call 863-4444.
SUISUN CITY — When the cost of retiree Jerry Rothfeld’s health care plan took a sharp increase, he and his wife had to switch to another with lower costs, but also with less coverage and the requirement to travel out of town for health care.
Soon after Covered California, the state’s health care marketplace, opened, the Rothfelds decided to see if they could get better, affordable health care.
“We were nervous, to say the least,” Rothfeld said of starting the process to get coverage through Covered California.
He called the process “tricky and confusing at first,” but assistance from the Solano Coalition for Better Health not only managed to connect him with an affordable health care plan, but one that included access to the doctor he had before he had to quit his first plan.
For Joseph Rapolla of Fairfield, getting his health care coverage squared away before the March 31 deadline is also going to make his life a lot easier. It will certainly make dealing with his diabetes a lot better and more affordable.
“I could not wait any longer,” Rapolla said. “Now, this makes things a lot easier.”
Once the open enrollment deadline passes, the next chance to register will be from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 for coverage starting Jan. 1, 2015.
For Jack Chester of Fairfield, who is on disability, it means the medications and possible treatment he needs won’t “cost into the thousands.”
“Everyone should have health insurance,” Chester said. “It is not cheap, but if you look at the cost of health care, it’s needed.”
Both also were able to work through all the intricacies of getting health care coverage through Covered California in less than a half-hour with the face-to-face help of Kiersha Baron, a health access specialist with the Solano Coalition for Better Health.
The clock is counting down toward the deadline for getting health care coverage through the state’s network and the Solano County nonprofit is pushing hard to get as many uninsured people as possible connected.
“Now is the time to explore what your options are,” said Tamera Owens, the nonprofit’s director of operations. “We want people to understand that they should explore their options before March 31. We want to be able to sit down with them and get them the coverage they need, and that door is closing.”
The Affordable Care Act took effect Jan. 1, requiring everyone to have health insurance or pay a fee, and expanding health care access through Medi-Cal and Covered California. It’s estimated that the Affordable Care Act will give almost 5.9 million uninsured Californians access to health insurance. Of these, more than 625,000 signed up through Covered California as of Jan. 15.
Locally, the 26-year-old Solano Coalition for Better Health, whose offices are located in Suisun City, has been working with Covered California since July to help local residents get health care coverage.
The coalition is an alliance local hospitals, nonprofits, community medical groups and schools that work to improve health care in Solano County. Its counselors are offering their services for free to connect people with health care.
Initial reactions to the coalition’s efforts have ranged from elation that the Affordable Care Act has started to those saying they don’t want any part of “Obamacare.”
“The latter reaction is starting to wane,” said Joanie Erickson, the coalition’s executive director.
Questions fielded by coalition counselors center primarily on whether the health care plan options are expensive and how much will they cost, Owens said.
“The largest misconception is the cost,” she said. “Depending on your income, you may be able to qualify for a fee waiver.”
Counselors are working with people to help them better understand Covered California’s benefits and find the best plan to meet their needs, whether its enrollment in Covered California, Medi-Cal or the Solano Kids Insurance Program.
The coalition’s efforts to get the word out have included town hall meetings, presentations before employee groups and small businesses, and work with school districts. So far, more than 3,500 Solano County adults and children have been enrolled through the coalition’s efforts. The coalition connects between 300 and 325 people on average a month with health care plans.
“It has been steady, but it has been a growing number,” Owens said. “A lot has been by word of mouth from those who get health care coverage and talk to their friends and neighbors.”
The best advice that Rothfeld can give others seeking health care coverage “is to just be persistent and don’t get discouraged.”
To reach the Solano Coalition for Better Health, call 863-4444 or go to www.solanocoalition.org. The coalition’s main offices are located at One Harbor Center, Suite 270, in Suisun City. It is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Safe Food Handling Practices in the Home
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) become ill, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases caused by eating contaminated food. A major cause of foodborne disease is improper handling of perishable foods, such as meats and eggs, allowing disease causing organisms to grow.
The sun is out and the heat is on. Proper hydration is critical for keeping cool and maintaining optimal health this summer. The human body consists of up to 75% water, or about 10 to 12 gallons, so replenishing your body’s water supply is the essential ingredient for proper body function.
If you remember having chicken pox as a child, as most of us baby boomers did in the days before a vaccine was available, you are at risk of developing shingles as an adult. That’s because the virus that causes chicken pox, herpes zoster, lies dormant in your nerve roots for the rest of your life. In most people, the virus remains dormant. But for others, the virus reactivates as shingles, causing a rash and intense pain.
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