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Health Secretary leads local discussion on Affordable Care Act

Two weeks after the launch of new health insurance marketplaces under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, many Americans still can’t access the federally-run website, where Ohio’s marketplace lives.

U.S. Department of Health and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius acknowledged that the launch of the website — HealthCare.gov — was “rockier than we would have liked” during a panel discussion Wednesday at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.

But “no one is missing health coverage” because of technical glitches that have plagued the website since it opened for enrollment on Oct. 1, Sebelius said.

“We’re still in the first quarter,” she told a crowd of about 80, including Cincinnati State students and faculty. “There are vast improvements in the system, and we are still not satisfied. We want to make this a seamless, easy to use product.”

For 49 million uninsured Americans — nearly 1.5 million in Ohio — the marketplaces are the first opportunity to compare insurance plans side-by-side and check eligibility for federal tax subsidies to make it more affordable, Sebelius said.

She was joined on the panel by Cincinnati Health Commissioner Dr. Noble Maseru; Keith Deaton, an uninsured real estate agent; Kyle Vath, clinical coordinator at Crossroad Health Center in Cincinnati; and moderator O’dell M. Owens, president of Cincinnati State and a physician.

The health insurance marketplaces will be open for enrollment through the end of March 31, with coverage beginning Jan. 1 for those who enroll by Dec. 15. Sebelius would not disclose current enrollment figures.

Deaton, of Mt Healthy, who works at the Fairfield office of Sibcy Cline, said as a real estate agent his income began suffering when the economy crashed in 2008. He could no longer afford the monthly insurance premiums of $1,400 for his family, and has now been without health coverage since Nov. 1, 2012.

“I was without health care at all,” Deaton said, who then started visiting the Cincinnati Health Department for services.

Deaton said he’s tried three times to access the insurance exchanges online, but has yet to be able to enter the site and comparison shop. Deaton said he’s excited about the opportunity to access the exchanges because he and his wife have several pre-existing conditions.

“If I’d taken care of myself in my youth I wouldn’t have the conditions I have now,” Deaton said. “The youth of America need to grasp this.”

David Kern, chairman of the Butler County Republican Party, said he agrees that changes to the health care system are needed, but believes a federally-funded program is too costly.

“Sure they want young people because they will pay higher rates which they don’t need,” Kern said. “They don’t have all the health needs.”

Sebelius said under the Affordable Care Act, about 100,000 young adults have been able to extend health coverage under their parents’ plans until age 26. As well, more than five million Americans with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied or underwritten.

“The message is no one knows when you’re going to trip on the basketball court or some car is going to run into you… and we know hospital bills and emergency room bills can be extraordinarily expensive,” Sebelius said. “Without insurance you have very little opportunity to deal with it.”

Health centers across the U.S. have also been adding certified application counselors in order to help with enrollment efforts and share resources with the community.

“Outreach, education and information, that’s the quest right now for us,” Maseru said.

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