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Union Members to Help Enroll People in Health Care Exchanges

On Tuesday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius spoke at Allegheny General Hospital announcing a partnership with Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The goal? To go into areas with high numbers of uninsured people and ensure they sign up for the health insurance exchanges, a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act. The exchanges are a health care market where people can compare different insurance plans based on coverage and prices.

The exchanges are fast approaching. On Oct. 1, people will start to be able to sign up. Pennsylvania opted out of running its exchange, so the federal government will run the state’s exchange.

Pennsylvania’s rates have not been released yet. Sebelius said that’s just because they really aren’t ready yet. 

SEIU is the largest union of health care workers in the country. They will train 500 members about the law, and they will then take that information into communities, knocking on doors, holding forums in communal gathering spots and working with groups such as Enroll America and Planned Parenthood.

Sebelius said the biggest challenge right now is getting people information.

“We finally have this historic opportunity to really make sure that regardless of where someone lives, regardless of where they work, regardless of when they want to retire, that they can go to a doctor, they can attain their prescriptions, they can attain the security of health coverage,” she said.

SEIU members will focus on communities in Pennsylvania and 13 other states, including Ohio and New Jersey. The communities focused on have some unifying factors — they have high rates of poverty and high rates of uninsured care.

Pennsylvania is not planning to expand Medicaid, the federal and state subsidized health insurance plan for the poor and disabled. Sebelius made a push for expanding Medicaid in Pennsylvania and told reporters she has been in “active discussions” with Gov. Tom Corbett and his administration.

One of Corbett’s concerns was that implementing the ACA would eliminate the state-wide CHIP program, a precursor to the national CHIP program.

“We are very eager to work with Pennsylvania," Sebelius said. "The Affordable Care Act in no way gets rid of the Pennsylvania CHIP program. It just ensures that the lower-income children would be in the same plan that there family is in … so parents would be able to sign up for the same plan that the children are in."

Erika Beras (she/her) is a reporter and host for NPR's Planet Money podcast.
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