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It's Enrollment Time at Covered California!

By Charlene Muhammad | California Black Media

LOS ANGELES - Enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) opens November 1, and Covered California, the state’s hub for affordable plans, launched its outreach to Black communities with a “Coffee & Conversation Media Roundtable” at the California Endowment on October 19.


 The event was hosted by Dr. Robert Ross, president, and CEO of the California Endowment, which makes grants to organizations and institutions that directly benefit the health and well-being of Californians.


Open enrollment ends on January 31, however, outside of that time, consumers may enroll in a plan if they experience a life event that qualifies them for a special-enrollment period.


Ross, Dr. Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, and a host of speakers discussed the future of health insurance and health care for Blacks in the state, particularly in a time of federal uncertainty and potential reforms to the national health care law.


 In August, the Trump Administration announced it would allocate $10 million for advertising and other outreach for enrollment under the Affordable Care Act Department this year, versus $100 million last year.


To maintain, Covered California has to add a surcharge averaging 12.4 percent to the Silver-tier plan next year.  But don’t worry, it says because the plans will level out, with nearly four out of five consumers seeing their premiums stay the same or decrease, since the amount of financial help they receive will also rise.


Financial help means that in 2018, nearly 60 percent of subsidy-eligible enrollees will have access to Silver coverage for less than $100 per month — the same as it was in 2017 — and 74 percent can purchase Bronze coverage for less than $10 per month, explains Covered California.


It is vital that Black communities stay informed about the state health exchange and its efforts to enroll communities of color, and members of the Black press are key players in that goal, say the health care advocates.


Statewide, Covered California has reduced the eligible uninsured rate to a little over three percent, meaning it’s reaching universal coverage, according to Lee.  That benefits all communities and to a very powerful degree, Black communities, he said.

Blacks make up approximately five percent of subsidy-eligible enrollments, and they make up eight percent of the new Medical enrollments, he said.


“We’re doing this in very odd and uncertain, turbulent times,” said Lee.  In many ways, this fifth open enrollment period is the second most important one Covered California has ever had, he said.


California’s decrease of 3.2 million people is the biggest decrease in the raw number of people uninsured nationwide, representing more than three states combined, cited Covered California from a U.S. Census report.


In the beginning, the network stumbled a little bit, but proved to the country it could endure, has done pretty well, and is a model for the U.S., Lee stated.  He also said frankly that Covered California and the Affordable Care Act are under attack.

Both have weathered the storm and been very effective in continuing to deliver, Lee said, as he thanked the Black media as part of the reason they’ve been successful in California.


Covered California’s marketing campaign aims to help motivate, inform, and assist people with enrollment.  “We’re at a time where telling our story has to happen on the ground,” Lee said.


While the average Californian, last open enrollment, saw, heard, read about Covered California 90 times, name recognition is not enough, Lee stated.


A survey of uninsured, eligible consumers showed 25 percent know it and 75 percent do not, according to Lee.

That is why the health insurance marketplace plans to spend $111 million - mostly on paid advertising - to make Blacks aware of benefits through Covered California, such as free preventive care services, lower cost, and quality choices from brand name companies.


The bottom line is quality health care is within reach, emphasized Ross, Lee, and other roundtable speakers, including physicians from Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, and Covered California insurance agents.


“California has been a model for the successful implementation of Obamacare,” said Ross.  “That partnership with the California Black Media and others, we think, is at least, at least, partly responsible for seeing the level of success we have in getting coverage improvements in the African American community,” he stated.


Regina Wilson, California Black Media director, questioned, what, specifically, are the health insurance plans themselves doing in terms of outreach to Blacks who are eligible, but not enrolling.


“One of the things we hear when we’re out there is people are confused about what’s happening,” Wilson informed.

“Covered California, you guys have stepped to the plate.  The Endowment always steps to the plate, but I see an absence when it comes to those individual plans marketing in those areas,” commended Wilson.

NHLBI: Exploring Research Directions In Hope Of A Widely Available

Cure For Sickle Cell Disease

(NAPSM)—September is not just “back-to-school” month; it’s National Sickle Cell Awareness Month—a month selected to call attention to a life-long illness affecting around 100,000 Americans, the majority of whom are African American or Hispanic.


Sickle cell disease is accompanied by severe pain attacks and poor oxygen delivery throughout the body that can cause critical damage to organs. Currently, the only cure is hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT)—a costly procedure in which stem cells are taken from the bone marrow or blood of a healthy donor, and then injected into the recipient to generate red blood cells that do not sickle as do the cells in those with sickle cell disease—the characteristic that gives the disease its name. Unfortunately, many people with sickle cell disease in the United States don’t have a relative who is a full genetic match and able to be a donor.



The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a leader of federally funded research efforts on sickle cell disease, is actively exploring several safe and effective treatment options, and leading several initiatives designed to find a widely available cure for sickle cell disease. The institute supports many research efforts that yield new therapies, optimize current treatments, enhance pain management, and improve bone marrow transplant procedures to increase the body’s acceptance of donor stem cells.


One promising strategy that is being studied in a clinical trial—a study that tests how well a new medical approach works in people—is half-match bone marrow transplants. Bone marrow transplants can eliminate sickle cell disease, ridding them of painful and debilitating symptoms, and the need for a lifetime of pain medications and blood transfusions. This half-match approach could make bone marrow transplants accessible to more people living with sickle cell disease.


The NHLBI also completed the Transcranial Doppler with Transfusions Changing to Hydroxyurea (TWiTCH) trial. Based on earlier research that was funded by NHLBI, regular blood transfusions have become the standard of care for reducing the risk of stroke in children with sickle cell disease. The TWiTCH study found that daily treatment with hydroxyurea—an oral medicine to help reduce or prevent several complications of sickle cell disease—is as effective as blood transfusions at reducing blood flow velocities in the brain, a key risk factor for stroke. NHLBI is committed to additional studies that can prevent strokes and other sickle cell-related complications.


Another area of promise for sickle cell disease treatment is gene editing, which involves changing the DNA. An NHLBI research group recently showed that correcting the sickle mutation in hematopoietic stem cells from patients with sickle cell disease, and then transplanting them in mice, resulted in enough normal hemoglobin to have a potential benefit. Another recent study in a patient showed that replacing the sickle mutation by gene insertion (gene therapy) resulted in complete clinical remission of sickle cell disease. However, longer follow-up in more patients is required to confirm the long-term safety and effectiveness of gene therapy for sickle cell disease.


NHLBI is also conducting early research using small molecule drugs. In one recent NHLBI-funded study, researchers found a small molecule that binds to hemoglobin and increases its ability to bind to oxygen; this could reduce sickling of red blood cells. Since small molecules can be easily administered, the hope is that this approach could become a cost-effective, widely available treatment for sickle cell disease both in developed and developing countries. However, this approach has not been tested in humans yet.


Over the next decade, NHLBI is committed to conducting and funding innovative research on sickle cell disease. Sickle cell patients who participate in research studies are critical partners in discovering potential therapies and new approaches that improve our understanding of sickle cell disease. Although new preventive and treatment strategies might take years to develop, patients should take heart that today there are effective treatments that can help reduce symptoms and prolong life.


To find out more about how you or a loved one can participate in a clinical trial, go to clinicaltrials.gov and search sickle cell disease.

Image credit: Laurel Mendelsohn, Emilia Barbu, NHLBI

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