October 29, 2013

Meetings to explain how health reform could benefit local residents

Charles Oliver

— More than a quarter of Whitfield County residents lack health insurance.

Those are the people who can most benefit from the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, says Dalton resident Jan Suggs.

“A group of us met for brunch ... and we were talking about ways we could help the community,” she said. “We realized there was this tremendous need, that there were a lot of people out there who are uninsured and would qualify for the Affordable Care Act and wanted to make sure they knew how to qualify for this opportunity.”

The law requires all Americans to have health insurance, and it set up exchanges where those who aren’t covered by their employer or by government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid can purchase it. The law also provides subsidies for those who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level to buy insurance.

Suggs, who has a background as a consultant on health insurance to large employers, said she and the rest of the group decided to put together two forums to give people more information on the law and how it could benefit them. They will hold an English language forum on Monday, Nov. 11, and a Spanish language forum on Thursday, Nov. 14. Both will be at the Mack Gaston Community Center in Dalton, and both will start at 6:30 p.m.

“We decided that we needed to have strong leaders in the community to take part,” Suggs said.

Dalton attorney John Minor will speak at both events.

“I’m going to do an overview from a legal standpoint,” Minor said. “This is what the law does. This is how it might affect you, and this is what you need to know.”

Minor said he believes many people are still unaware of everything the law does, even though it was passed more than three years ago.

“My concern is that we’ll be preaching to the choir, talking to people who already know quite a bit about the law,” he said. “I hope that the word will get out and that people who aren’t as informed will show up.”

Alexandria Chambers, a trained and licensed health care navigator from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, will be at both events to speak and answer questions. Navigators are paid under a federal contract to help walk people through the process of buying insurance on the exchanges.

“After this meeting, she will be at the community center weekly to help people out,” Suggs said. “In addition, if there are churches and other groups that want more information they will be able to schedule her to speak to them.”

Dr. Jeffeory White, of White’s Pediatrics, is scheduled to speak at the Nov. 11 meeting, and Dr. Pablo Perez, of St. Joseph Clinic, is scheduled to speak at the Nov. 14 meeting.

Suggs said the law has the potential to help many people in this area who don’t have health insurance get insurance.

“We’ve been trying to get the word out on this. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at the interest we have received, and we hope we get a good turnout,” she said.