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Health care services set for changes

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Several lawmakers and state health officials were on hand Tuesday night at Rocky Mount City Hall to discuss what is changing in regard to medical services for the Twin Counties and what is staying the same.

N.C. Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, moderated the more than two-hour event that provided information about a number of health care services. However, the event focused on the upcoming enrollment period for insurance through the Affordable Care Act, the expected transfer of state Medicaid administration to a managed heath care organization and the expansion of services related to opioid addiction.

Open enrollment for insurance under the Affordable Care Act initiated during President Barack Obama’s tenure in office will begin Nov. 1 and will end Dec.15 this year, a shorter time period than last year. Ncole Dozier, who works with the Health Advocacy Project under the N.C. Justice Center, assured residents that the ACA program is still intact despite what she called “concerted efforts to sabotage” the program.

“Nothing has changed right now and the Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land,” Dozier said.

Dozier did say that health care premiums may go up for some people as much as 14.1 percent due to the uncertainties now surrounding the funding. However, both she and Bryant urged residents to seek help in accessing and completing enrollment this year, even if they have already received a letter with costs outlined.

“Sometimes those figures change during enrollment,” Dozier said. “Residents need to plan to ask for help from a certified application counselor.”

Such counselors can be found online at https://connector.getcoveredamerica.org/en-us/widget/?original=/connector.

Bryant said she had hopes for national health care reform in a new bipartisan bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“I don’t agree with all the provisions in this bill, but overall, I see it as a good thing,” Bryant said.

In the meantime, Dozier said residents can advocate for continuation of the Affordable Care Act by remembering to enroll.

Mark Benton, deputy secretary for health services at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, outlined some of the changes ahead as the Medicaid system in North Carolina transitions over to management under a managed care organization. The transition is slated to be complete by July 2019.

“We are looking forward to a new world of Medicaid managed care and we hope this will allow us to find ways to improve services to the people of North Carolina,” Benton said.

Benton spoke specifically about the growing need to devote more resources to the issue of opioid use disorder. He said more than 13,000 people in North Carolina have died over the past few years because of opioid overdose, and the state is on track to see another 1,200 deaths this year. 

Benton said the opioid crisis is also impacting the state’s children. The number of infants born addicted to opioids has increased by more than 800 percent, and the state has seen a 25 percent increase in foster care placements related in large part to the opioid crisis, Benton said.

“It will take many years for us get out of this epidemic,” Benton said.

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