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Health care exchange starts today

Today marks the beginning of a seismic shift in the state’s health-care industry with the opening of Covered California, a health insurance marketplace that offers a variety of coverage options direct to consumers. It’s the cornerstone of the hotly contested implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare.

To help Sonoma County residents understand what this change will mean for them, 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin hosted a meeting last Thursday at Altimira Middle School, during which a panel of experts discussed the law and took questions from the audience of about 40 attendees. The speakers ranged from representatives of the county’s Department of Health Services, to the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce.Each spoke about different aspects of the new law and how it will affect various stakeholders, from the business community to new immigrants.

The meeting was briefly interrupted when an audience member began shouting at the dais in what appeared to be a staged protest against the ACA. The protestor, who refused to identify herself, ignored repeated requests for order from officials, and left only when other attendees shouted back for her to “shut up.”

Of the 70,000 Sonoma County residents who currently live without health insurance, approximately 50,000 will be eligible for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. However, not all 50,000 will sign up in the first year. Dr. Abraham Daniels of the Department of Health Services said, “We want to enroll 13,500 in Medi-Cal, as well as 12,000 into Covered California in the first year.”

Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, will be expanded to cover a wider range of patients. In 2014, people under age 65, including those with disabilities, with an annual income of less than $15,856 for a single individual or $32,499 for a family of four, can sign up for Medi-Cal. No longer will assets, such as owning a house or car, count against a person’s eligibility for the state-provided insurance.

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