ByTia Lynn Lecorchick, Staff Writer

St. Paul AME Church hosted an informational session to educate attendants on the changing landscape of healthcare on Friday, January 10.

Open enrollment for Georgia’s Health Insurance Marketplace begins October 1 and ends March 31. Benjamin Harrison, the communications director for Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a licensed insurance agent, presented the history of the Obamacare Initiative since it was signed into law in March of 2010 and provided the most current resources for attendants to find the healthcare options best suited for themselves and their families.

“My goal and my aim is to empower you,” said Harrison. “We want people to understand this. My job is to clarify the process, so when we all leave here tonight we can better understand this process and share that information with our friends and families.”

“There are a lot of rumors and misunderstandings out there about Obamacare,” said Harrison Harrison told the crowd that the primary goal of Obamacare, the popular nickname given to the The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is “to create a wider eligibility for those previously disenfranchised.

We had a health insurance market that worked well for big insurance companies, but no so well for American families,” said Harrison.

According to Harrison’s presentation, some of the key changes in healthcare law include: the Individual Mandate, which requires all individuals to carry health insurance, increased funding for community health centers, young adults able to remain on their parents’ health insurance until the age of 26, people with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied health coverage, free preventive services, the removal of caps on annual and lifetime limits (coverage cannot run out), and the government monitoring unreasonable rate hikes by insurance companies.

The mandatory inclusion for people with pre-existing conditions was particularly important to Reverend Cedric Cotton, the head past of St. Paul AME Church.

“I understand the situation of the poor and downtrodden. They are usually those who are deprived of healthy foods and the ones most susceptible to pre-existing conditions,” said Cotton.

There are four types of Marketplace Plans: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The amount of coverage scales upward, with bronze providing the lowest amount of coverage and platinum plans providing the highest.

According to Harrison, The Affordable Care Act “builds on the current health care system to expand coverage for 32+ million people.”

Those who opt not to acquire health insurance will incur a fine, however. For 2014, the fee is $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, up to $285 per family, or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater.

The fine for not obtaining health insurance is anticipated to drastically increase in 2016, with a $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater.

To protect low-income families from incurring these fines, Medicaid will expand during 2014 to include individuals with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, which is approximately $15,800 for one person and $32,500 for a family of four.

However, Georgia is one of 26 states that is resisting the expansion of Medicaid, which may make it much more difficult for low-income people become eligible for Medicaid across the Individuals eligible for tax credits and subsidies must have incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

These tax credits can be directly applied to the plan premiums at the time of enrollment or taken later at tax time, said Harrison. According to Harrison, 20 percent of Georgians are uninsured, 27 percent of Georgians receive public health insurance, 48 percent of Georgians get insurance through their employers, and just five percent of Georgians have private health insurance.

This puts the state of Georgia at the fifth highest rate of uninsured citizens in the entire nation, with only California, Florida, Texas, and New York having more. Cotton encouraged attendants to ready themselves for the coming changes.

“Be participants, so we can be intelligent about this new healthcare processm,” said Cotton. For more information about healthcare and how to enroll, visit www.healthcare.gov.

Through this website, consumers will be able to compare all insurance options based on price, benefits, and quality in plain language, said Harrison. To find out more information about government healthcare, visit www.medicare.govm or the site to apply for Medicaid: www.dfcs.dhs.georgia.gov/medicaid, or Peach Care for Kids: www.peachcare.org.