Students sparse at Obamacare forum

Health journalist holds seminar to answer crowd’s questions on ACA.

Valerie Osier | Staff Writer

Award-winning health journalist, Emily Bazar, answered important questions on Obamacare for the half-empty Digital Library Auditorium at Riverside City College. 

The free informational event attracted about 30 people who sought answers from Bazar about the new law on Nov. 21. The forum was hosted by the
Center for Health Reporting and The Press-Enterprise.

The objective of the forum was to neither promote nor criticize Obamacare, but to provide information to the public on the complex topic.

“It is a very complex law, it is a very confusing law and I don’t blame people for really not knowing what to do about it,” Bazar said, writer of the “Ask Emily” column that appears in 25 media outlets.

Bazar is also a senior writer for the California HealthCare Foundation’s Center for Health Reporting at USC and a civilian expert on the Patient Protection
and Affordable Care Act, who has been writing on health care for four years.

“It’s one of the most important health laws in our lifetime: obviously very controversial and confusing,” Nels Jensen said, Editor of The Press-Enterprise.

“Anything we can do to help people understand is a good thing. It’s part of our mission to help inform the community.”

Starting Jan. 1 most Americans must have a minimum level of health insurance or they will have to pay a tax penalty.

For 2013 there will be a grace period until March 31.

For 2014 it starts at $95 per adult, but by 2016 it goes up to $695 per adult, and the penalty for children will be half of the adult rate.

If you already have health insurance through your employer, Medicare or MediCal, you don’t need to sign up for insurance elsewhere, according to Bazar.

Californians who are  currently not covered by their employer must sign up by Dec. 23 through California’s health care exchange, coveredCA.com, to be covered by Jan. 1.

“On Jan. 1 this law, like it or not, changes the rules of the insurance game for everybody,”  Bazar said.

Bazar covered a wide range of questions from what qualifies a person for federal subsidies to what the new essential health benefits are.

“We wanted to be able to be available to people because this law is so confusing: to help them make sense of it,” said Bazar. “These are big decisions
and it hasn’t been the easiest for people to find the answers to their questions, so it’s great that we’re at RCC because students too have to make those decisions.”

Only about two RCC students attended the forum seated among the approximately 25 senior and middle-aged citizens.

RCC student Yaquel in Aranda, who found out about the forum through her student email, was surprised at seeing that not many students her age
attended the event.

“(I am) disappointed, because yes, I do see older people, but what about the new generation?” Aranda said.

RCC student Cesar Del Angel went to the forum because he is trying to decide if he will buy his health insurance from Covered California or through his employer.

“It was very informative, although there are some things I’m still a little confused,” Del Angel said. “I’m still a bit iffy about the website, but at least I have more information to make my position because not only am I a student, I’m a full-time employee.”

The Press-Enterprise also provided a live streaming webcast of the forum, and it is available to view on YouTube or through their website.

“I was pretty disappointed at the turn out,” Jensen said.

“The rain I’m sure kept some people away. I thought we did a pretty decent job of getting the word out…You can’t be too worried about the numbers though, it’s more about the quality of the information.”