By Brenda Flanagan
The early lunch crowd found their orders came with a heaping helping of Obamacare this morning at Tops Diner in East Newark where officials urged folks who need health coverage by Jan. 1 to sign up before tomorrow’s deadline. For cancer patient Chiara D’Agostino — who signed up just a couple months before her diagnosis in fall of 2014 — Obamacare is something she literally can’t live without.
She said, “I’m very, very grateful that I can take part in the Affordable Care Act because it’s really been saving my life. I don’t have any property, I have no savings, I have nothing that I could pay my medical bills with.”
“In terms of this year and folks signing up, every indication is you’ll have your insurance for the year, and we want to get those people insured and covered,” said Federal Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.
Burwell’s pushing people to enroll, despite some fraught politics. For many Americans, President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to repeal Obamacare — and replace it with something not yet listed or priced on any political menu — has created deep uncertainty.
“All I hear right now is this race — literally in the first days of Congress — their intention is to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and cause panic and concern and worry to a lot of Americans who are benefiting from this,” said Sen. Cory Booker.
D’Agostino said, “I’m terrified. I’m afraid of what’s going to happen, because I don’t want to die because I can’t afford my health coverage.”
Trump has stated he does want to keep some popular Obamacare elements. Like coverage for pre-existing illnesses and for adult children up to age 26.
“I would like to have the option to be able to cover a dependent who lives in my home or a child that lives in my home. So that is a concern of mine,” said New Jersey resident Mia Stern.
In New Jersey, 650,000 residents — like D’Agostino — get Obamacare through Medicaid. Another 250,000 get coverage through the subsidized federal marketplace. And In New Jersey, only two insurance companies still offer plans — Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield and AmeriHealth New Jersey — at higher premiums. Open enrollment runs through Jan. 31.
“Yeah, I’m on the internet now looking at the different programs that they have available. But the prices keep going up. I’m not rushing to get it, to break the bank, so to speak, so I’m taking my time,” said Newark resident John Perry.
The Trump transition will be served in January and Obamacare is still on the menu — including all of the benefits — but also some of the less palatable items, like penalties for those who don’t sign up as required.