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Extension launches health care education program

7/11/2013

Sweeping changes in America's health care system begin to take effect in October, which means Roberta Riportella expects to be very, very busy the next several months.

Sweeping changes in America's health care system begin to take effect in October, which means Roberta Riportella expects to be very, very busy the next several months.

Riportella, the new Kansas Health Foundation professor of community health at Kansas State University, is heading up Extension efforts to help Kansans learn more about how the Affordable Care Act -- often called "Obamacare" -- will affect them once the law goes into effect Jan. 1.

"I very much want people to know that I'm not saying 'Obamacare' is the best or the worst plan for health care reform; it just 'is,' " Riportella said. "It's the law of the land, and I am here to make sure that people understand what they need to know about it."

In addition, she will train K-State Research and Extension agents and staff throughout Kansas so they can help.

"I think when people start to hear what really is in the Affordable Care Act, they may begin to feel more comfortable with it," she said.

In Kansas, it stands to most directly affect more than 365,000 people who are currently without health insurance, many of whom now will be required to purchase insurance from private providers authorized through a "marketplace exchange."

Kansans will begin making those choices when open enrollment begins Oct. 1.

The marketplace exchange system is intended to make insurance more affordable for those without health coverage. Consumers will have a choice of private plans, and qualifying individuals and families are eligible for tax credits.

Riportella added the Affordable Care Act makes it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition like asthma or diabetes (on Jan. 1, this applies to adults, too), 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.

Thus far, three companies -- Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas, Coventry and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas City -- are approved to provide ACA coverage for Kansans. Those same companies provide insurance at many larger Kansas companies, and many of the benefits they offer in those plans now will be available to all citizens.

In educating more people about the law, Riportella is being careful not to position herself or K-State Research and Extension as being in favor of or opposed to Obamacare.

"What I'm an advocate for is good, quality, affordable health care," she said. "I or others may have chosen to design the changes differently, but the ACA is the law we've got. I do believe the Affordable Care Act will help to insure more Americans, and that can be a positive thing."

To learn more about the Affordable Care Act, visit the Ellis County Fair, which begins Saturday, where educational resources developed by Riportella will be on display for the public. The display will include several informational posters and a set of six handouts with more information about the Affordable Care Act. The display will be in the Schenk Building at the Ellis County Fairgrounds from 7 to 10 p.m. Tuesday and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through July 19. More information also will be available at the Ellis County Extension office after the fair at 601 Main Street, Ste. A, Hays.

Linda Beech is a Kansas State University Research & Extension agent in Ellis County specializing in family and consumer sciences. lbeech@ksu.edu