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Merlene Davis: Forum will help explain health care reform act

The special event "Healthcare Reform: What you need to know" scheduled for 5-7 p.m. tonight at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center has been canceled because of the weather. The event has not yet been rescheduled.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, better known as health care reform, was signed into law March 23.

About 10 months later, most of us still don't know how it will affect us.

The act has become a successful and convenient political dagger thrown at opponents during elections, but my guess is not one of those politicians has taken the time to lay out the act in terms we all could understand.

With some of its provisions now in effect and others starting down the road, it's time we all became more knowledgeable about it.

The Black Church Coalition, Kentucky Voices for Health and the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department are sponsoring a free community forum to help answer questions from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third Street.

I know, I know. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have vowed to repeal the health care reform act, starting with a vote this week. So attending a session about it would be a waste of time, right?

Probably not. Most observers think the vote will be symbolic at best, passing only the House, where Republicans hold a majority, but not even coming up for a vote in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats still hold a majority.

But if the repeal manages to pass through Congress, it would still have to be signed by President Barack Obama. The chances of that happening seem remote, because he considers the reform one of his greatest victories.

Jodi Mitchell, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of Kentuckians concerned about health care solutions, said her organization does not take a stand on the politics of the act. "We do not have a position," Mitchell said. "We are seeking to provide the guidance."

"There are a lot of unknowns about how it is being implemented," she said. "It is law, but some positions are not defined. But we encourage people to stay abreast of what's going on and the insurance issues."

The group has put information on its Web site, Kyvoicesforhealth.com, which shows a basic time line for the puzzle pieces falling into place and shows how the act impacts Kentuckians.

For instance, we have already seen a reduction in the coverage gap or donut hole that some Medicare recipients have fallen into in past years, requiring full payment for prescriptions until their monetary outlay reaches a certain amount. And we've seen parents can keep their children on their insurance policies until they reach age 26.

Plus, tax credits are available to small businesses with up to 25 employees to help defray company insurance costs.

But other pieces of the act will launch at various times during the next nine years.

Many of the provisions now and in the future are of particular benefit to Kentucky.

We have one of the highest poverty levels in the nation and a relatively low per capita income that ranks 47th out of the 50 states. That means the rising cost of health insurance makes it beyond the means of many of our neighbors.

According to Kentucky Voices, 626,000 Kentuckians do not have health insurance, and 80 percent of those are employed.

The Rev. Troy Thomas of St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Lexington said the Black Church Coalition wants the forum to generate conversations and questions about the law.

"There is so much up in the air," he said. "I thought because everything is changing, we need a public forum to know the basics."

The forum will be in layman's terms, easily understandable, he said.

"There's been too much jargon and verbiage," he said. "My concern, really, is getting grown children whose parents are facing Medicare decisions enough information so they can sit at the table and say, 'Nana, this is what you need to know.'"

And, Thomas said, young couples who perhaps lost their insurance as of Dec. 31 or those with pre-existing medical conditions need to be aware of protections that are now law.

Dr. Melinda Rowe, commissioner of the health department, will offer a brief overview of health care reform before Mitchell answers questions.

Mitchell said that if anyone has a question about a specific situation, it might be better to e-mail that question to her before the forum. She then would be able to research the answer. Her e-mail is kvhexec@kyvoicesforhealth.org.

"If I don't have the answer, I will try to provide sources where they can find an answer," Mitchell said.

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