Politics & Government
3:52 pm
Mon March 24, 2014

APR teams with AL.com to report on Affordable Care Act

If you've started an application to get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the deadline to finish the process is mid-April. The Act and its internet marketplace have lowered insurance premiums for some Alabamians and raised them for others. All year long on APR, our news team will be working with AL.com for a year’s worth of stories on how people are trying to make the Act work.

“I’m a cashier. I’ve been a cashier for seven years. Everybody likes me.”

Zachary Pachello is twenty nine years old. He works at the Publix Supermarket in Northport, near Tuscaloosa. That's what he does now, but he has plans....

“I want a job in publishing in New York. I'm an English major. That's what English majors do."

But, Zachary has more immediate problems. He's autistic and has spino bifida. He uses a cane to get around.

“I don’t know, we’re frustrated.”

That’s Zachary’s father Mike. He and his wife, Young Pachello, sit on the back porch of their home in Northport. Stacked in front of them are print-outs from the Affordable Care Act. They’re settling on Zachary’s coverage.

“You can see for the ‘blue saver bronze plan,’ he pays nothing per month, but he has a $6,300 deductible,” says Mike Pachello. “He’s a graduate of the University of Alabama, even with his disabilities.”

The Affordable Care Act is supposed to create a marketplace where people can find coverage that is, as the name implies, affordable. Young Pachello says that’s not happening in Zachary’s case.

“He really can’t live independently, so he has to go with the plan with us,” says Ms. Pachello. “That means a deductible of $6,350 a year which he can’t afford and neither can we.”

Zachary could go on disability, but that would mean giving up his cashier’s job. And certainly his dreams of working in New York, which his parents doubts will ever happen. For the Pachello’s, they only have to worry about Zachary’s coverage. What happens if you have to handle eighteen policies all at once?

In Tuscaloosa, volunteer work crews are putting the finishing touches on two homes for Habitat for Humanity. Delivery trucks are bringing sod for the front yards, while the tiles go down in the kitchen and the shingles go on the roofs.

“It’s been an interesting roller coaster ride.”

That’s Ellen Potts. She’s Executive Director of Tuscaloosa’s Habitat for Humanity. The roller coaster ride she’s referring to has nothing to do with picking color schemes.

“The problem is we can’t get a booklet, so we can’t get a summary of benefits for our employees, even though the Act went into effect January first. We really don’t know how it’s effected us and our employees yet.”

Most of the hammering that goes into a Habitat home is done by volunteers. However, Potts has eighteen paid staff members who need coverage through the Affordable Care Act. When the process started in January, she got her first shock. Her younger employees were going to cost about $450 a month is what she paid before the Act when into effect. However, her older workers were another story.

“Some of our older workers, who were 60-ish, were going to cost about $850 a month,” says Potts. “And, in my manager’s mind, I thought…wow.”

Then, Washington “flip-flopped” and the higher cost for older workers went away. After our interview, Potts called to say she finally got the benefits booklet she wanted, three month the ACA went into effect. To hear her talk about the Act, Potts sounds like she’s trade all that paperwork for a hammer and tool belt if she could. Some people say they’ve been helped by the Act, while others say they’re paying more. Still others sound confused and are looking for advice wherever they can get it. A dozen people gathered at the Birmingham Public Library branch on Springville Road. Workers for the non-profit group Birmingham HealthCare came print-outs in hand to try to explain the Affordable Care Act. After two hours, did it help?

“No, not really,” says Christie Belcher of Pierson.

She has a medical condition that causes memory problems. “I was hoping for someone to help me walk through the process. It’s all sounds pretty confusing to me.”

The search for answers includes the halls of the Birmingham News. The paper is part of a group of newspapers owned by AL.com, including the Huntsville Times, and the Mobile Press Register. Scott Walker is News Director of Emerging Markets. He says even with all that statewide reach, the Affordable Care Act is a big subject to cover.

“You know, obviously the end game is information,” says Walker. “And educating people about their healthcare choices and options, and helping them make the best choices for their situation as best they can.”

One solution is working with other news outlets, including Alabama Public Radio. All year long, APR will be working alongside reporters with AL.com for a yearlong joint project on the Affordable Care Act. You’ll hear from your friends and neighbors as Alabama tries to make the system work. Later this week, we’ll begin with a story from APR’s Ryan Vasquez on people caught in the so-called “Medicaid gap.”