About 200 concerned and sometimes confused people packed into a lecture hall on Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center's campus Thursday for a quick lesson on the state's health care overhaul, which is set to pick up steam Oct. 1 with the launch of the state's health insurance exchange.
The forum was one of a series of seminars planned for the region to spread the word about changes coming to the way Oregonians will receive health care and sign up for insurance.
Several changes arrive in Oregon's health care field on Oct. 1. That's the day people can begin to purchase health insurance that would take effect in January 2014.
The Affordable Care Act requires everyone to have health insurance by March 31, 2014, or face a penalty.
Oregonians will be able to shop for insurance through Cover Oregon at www.coveroregon.com, which will contain a list of packages with varying costs and coverage options.
Jeff Caulley, RRMC's manager of strategy and business development, took the audience through how the exchange markets will work and tried to answer questions about what will change on Oct. 1 and what citizens will need to do to prepare for the overhaul.
"If you have employer-based insurance, not much will change for you," Caulley said.
However, those who do not receive insurance through work and do not qualify for programs such as Medicare and the Oregon Health Plan are required by law to purchase insurance or pay a steadily increasing fine.
"The first year is not too harsh a penalty," Caulley said. "It's $95 per individual and $285 maximum for a family."
The fines will take a bigger financial bite from people who choose not to buy health insurance as the years progress. By 2016, those who do not buy insurance can expect to be hit with a $695 fine per person and about $2,000 per family.
Caulley noted that many people will be eligible for subsidies to help pay for insurance and outlined their options. In addition, he explained that insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Also, insurance plans will be required to meet certain minimum standards — known as the 10 Essential Benefits — such as providing preventive care, covering mammograms and colonoscopies and paying for mental health and rehabilitation.
One audience member asked whether it was required to have an insurance agent at hand to enter the online insurance exchange. Caulley said that would be the case for the first two weeks that the exchange is open. After the two weeks have passed, the exchange will be open to the general public without the assistance of an insurance agent.
Pat Gordon of Ruch left the seminar with the intention of spreading the information she received.
"So many people don't know anything about these reforms," she said. "I want to pass along the information as a public service."
Al Haas, who is a certified volunteer counselor for the Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance program, said he hopes people on Medicare will be able to navigate the reforms and have their needs met. SHIBA is a program that helps people understand their Medicare benefits.
"We are hoping people contact us to help them through this process," Haas said.
Jay Faherty, director of marketing and communications at Asante, said he was pleased with the meeting's attendance.
"We want to use this to help answer people's questions and be prepared in the future to address concerns," Faherty said. "We are going to take this feedback and use it to keep people better informed."
Faherty said the hospital has trained about 50 people to assist community residents in how to navigate the insurance exchanges.
The seminar will be offered again on future dates in Medford, Eagle Point and Grants Pass.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email@example.com.