K-State Professor Educates Kansans About Health Care Options

Sweeping changes in America's health care system began to take effect in October, which kept Roberta Riportella very, very busy for several months.Roberta Riportella

Riportella (pictured), the Kansas Health Foundation professor of community health at Kansas State University, leads an effort to help individuals learn more about the Affordable Care Act — often called Obamacare — and how it will affect them.

"When I came to K-State in January 2013, I quickly developed new relationships with the important health care community players here to develop and sustain an educational program about the Affordable Care Act for consumers and communities," Riportella said.

By presenting unbiased programs about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), she has educated at least 600 Kansans in more than a dozen Kansas communities. She also trained more than 150 K-State Research and Extension faculty and other professionals, who are now teaching in their own communities.

Almost 90 percent of the participants rated the sessions as very good or excellent. More importantly, they reported increased knowledge about the ACA.

"I very much want people to know that I'm not saying Obamacare is the best or the worst; it just 'is,' Riportella said. "It's the law of the land, and I am here to make sure that people understand what the criteria are."

Riportella recently finished collaborating on an educational program about the impact of ACA on farmers and farm families that will be distributed to state and national colleagues through the SmartChoice extension educational program.

How Kansans are affected

In Kansas, those most directly affected are the more than 365,000 who are currently without health insurance, many of whom now will be required to purchase insurance from private providers authorized through a "Marketplace Exchange."

"We have a functioning exchange in our state, and people who don't have insurance have a place to go to purchase more affordable insurance," Riportella said. "Kansas people who are uninsured have a product to buy, they have a marketplace to go to, and they have people to help them enroll."

The marketplace is intended to make insurance more affordable. Consumers have a choice of private plans, and qualifying individuals and families are eligible for tax credits, she said.

Specific to Kansans ...

  • Providing dependent coverage to age 26 will benefit more than 25,000 young Kansas adults.

  • Prescription drug discounts will save $14 million for Kansans, an average of $615 per person.

  • Rebates from insurance companies will total more than $4 million.

  • A reinsurance program for retirees will affect employees at more than 60 Kansas companies.

  • Federal funding for public and private Kansas recipients will exceed $90 million.

Riportella added that ACA makes it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to children and adults because of a pre-existing condition like asthma or diabetes,put a lifetime limit on how much care they will pay for if you get sick, or cancel your coverage when you get sick by finding a mistake on your paperwork.

So far, four companies — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, Coventry Health Care of Kansas, and Coventry Health and Life Insurance — are approved to provide coverage for Kansans. Those same companies provide insurance at many larger Kansas companies, and many of the benefits they offer in those plans will now be available to all citizens.

Highlights of the Affordable Care Act

  • All Americans, with some exemptions, must have health insurance; insurance companies may no longer deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.

  • Individuals with insurance through their employers or private insurance do not have to change their plans, but can still compare other options. They will see improved consumer protections and coverage of preventive services with those plans.

  • Individuals who qualify for Medicare or Medicaid will continue to be eligible for those programs.

  • Companies will be able to make insurance more affordable because there is a larger pool, or marketplace.

  • Many preventive services — such as mammograms, vaccinations, blood pressure screening, tobacco cessation counseling and more — will be available for free.

  • Children may stay on their parents' health plans up to age 26.

  • Differences in premiums will be based on smoking status, region of the country, and some differences allowed for age.

  • Women will no longer be charged more for insurance than men.

  • Americans will purchase insurance through a "Marketplace Exchange," which provides affordable choices for consumers. Policies offered through the marketplace will vary on premiums, deductibles, and co-pays, and whether or not they are high deductible plans with health savings accounts. Consumers will choose from a network of health providers.

  • Plans offered in the marketplace will be bronze, silver, gold or platinum, according to the benefits offered and costs of the premium.

  • Insurance companies must spend 80 cents of the premium dollar on the consumer's health care. Previously, companies spent about 40 cents on the dollar.

  • Open enrollment for insurance coverage began in October 2013 and, for the first year, extends through March 31, 2014. 

Blog: Issues in Health Reform

Roberta Riportella, the Kansas Health Foundation professor of community health at Kansas State University, maintains a blog to address key issues related to health reform in the United States.

Find the blog here.

Here is a list of other key resources available:

Why K-State Research and Extension can help find solutions for the challenges facing Kansans


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