WHEELING - Americans in participating states today can begin applying for the national Health Insurance Marketplace, though none of the plans take effect until Jan. 31.
Local hospitals and clinics report the business side of medicine continues as usual for now at their facilities, though they don't know what to expect after 2014 when new health insurance requirements are scheduled to kick into action.
Kathie Brown, executive director of Wheeling Health Right, said her agency has received a grant from the West Virginians for Affordable Health Care organization and is presently assisting its patients who qualify in applying for coverage under the new system.
Anyone qualifying for foodstamp programs has been notified they qualify for the expansion of the Medicaid program in West Virginia, she said. Residents with computer access also can obtain information about the Health Insurance Marketplace, or apply for coverage, at www.healthcare.gov/marketplace/individual/.
Wheeling Health Right will host a press conference at noon today, during which West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler is set to discuss provisions of the Affordable Care Act, often called "Obamacare."
"We're not going to be doing anything different here at all," Brown said. "But we are here to help people to complete their applications, even the ones who have received notification they will qualify will not be eligible for coverage until Jan. 31. For now, we are helping those who do quality to fill out paperwork to get accepted."
Brown said free clinics still will be needed under the Affordable Health Care Act, as the Congressional Budget Office projects 29 million Americans will remain uninsured under the plan.
She added it's estimated as many as 20,000 people in the Northern Panhandle could be among those without health care benefits.
"We will continue to be their medical home until they make a decision," Brown said. "We're only a stop gap solution because there are not enough doctors here to treat everyone."
Brown sees Wheeling Health Right being a "hybrid" type of healthcare provider under Obamacare, treating both those uninsured and probably Medicaid patients.
"It's a great project, and a great program," she said of the new healthcare law. "We just have to work through this as carefully as we can to get people into the doctors. ... There are so many pieces unanswered, and no one knows what is going to happen. I don't think this is the panacea people think it is, but everything takes time."
Ron Violi, chief executive officer at Wheeling Hospital, agreed the effect of the health care reform bill on hospitals and clinics "is impossible to accurately predict."
"What can be fairly stated is that in the coming years under health care reform, some providers will likely go out of business," he said. "The ones that survive will be the ones that can adapt quickly to change and to new models of operation and payment. The challenge for (hospitals) is to be able to be the adapters who survive and learn to thrive under the new models. We intend to do just that."