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Forum addresses Affordable Care Act

Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Holly D'Amico, director of medical resources for Excela Health Systems, answers a question during a town hall forum on the Affordable Care Act in Westmoreland County Community College on Monday, Oct. 7, 2013.

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Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, 11:41 p.m.

Since her divorce, Rhonda Marshall has struggled to pay $480 a month for health insurance and hopes to find a more affordable plan through the online marketplace mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

“I got on ( two nights ago,” Marshall, 54, of Latrobe said on Monday before the start of a town hall forum on the new law at Westmoreland County Community College's Youngwood campus. About 70 people attended.

It was the eighth forum held in recent months, said Bill McKendree, lead counselor of the Allegheny County APPRISE Program, who served as moderator. APPRISE is the state's free health insurance counseling program.

Awaiting her fourth surgery for a pre-existing condition she declined to discuss, Marshall said the law appeals to her because she can't be refused coverage or charged more because of her health.

In Westmoreland County, a single person making $23,000 a year could pay as little as $120 a month for health care coverage under the act, said Erin Ninehouser, education and outreach director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network. A family of four making $45,000 would pay about $220 for a silver-level plan.

The act, which took effect Oct. 1, will have a major impact on hospitals and doctors, said Holly D'Amico, director of medical resources for Excela Health Systems.

Under the law, hospitals will “manage acute conditions and transition patients to other facilities, like a nursing home,” she said.

That has been the practice for some time, resulting in a decline in “inpatient utilization,” D'Amico said.

Patients can expect to see more nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

“More of the less complicated medical needs will be handled by someone other than a physician,” she said.

The Affordable Care Act requires states to provide access to the online marketplace, called an exchange, where individuals and small businesses may compare, select and purchase private health insurance policies that offer a minimum level of coverage.

Policies must cover a package of necessary health benefits that include hospitalization, emergency services and mental health treatments, along with annual wellness checkups and other preventative screenings.

Because of the government shutdown and computer glitches, many people had difficulties accessing the marketplace website when it opened on Oct. 1. The marketplace is accessible by phone at 800-318-2596.

Customers who sign up before Dec. 15 will have coverage beginning Jan. 1. Customers have until the end of March to sign up to avoid tax penalties.

Even though she has insurance, 83-year-old Delores Corbet of West Newton worries about how the new law will impact her.

“I think all insurances are going to go up,” Corbet said. “Somewhere down the line, they're going to say you have to have this, or that.”

The Obama administration hopes to sign up 7 million people during the first year and aims to eventually sign up at least half of the nearly 50 million Americans who are uninsured through an expansion of Medicaid or government-subsidized plans.

Gov. Tom Corbett has joined some other Republican governors in rejecting Medicaid expansion. He has proposed an alternative that would use the expansion money in Pennsylvania to buy insurance for the poor in the private market.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or

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