Local health officials say Affordable Care Act is working

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Over the past couple years, those watching over implementation of the Affordable Care Act admit there have been struggles.

“Like anything, there is bugs and they need to work through them. And so that is kind of what they have been doing,” Youngstown City Health Commissioner Erin Bishop said.

Figures from 2014, the most recent available locally, show more than 800 people have been enrolled in the system in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, with many of them coming from the inner cities.

“There are still pockets that are having a difficult time getting into the system, in the rural community,” Elaine Smith from Access Health Mahoning Valley said.

Health officials claim the numbers of under-insured or uninsured in the two counties has dropped by about 45 percent. Hospital administrators said they are seeing the difference as well.

“The number of under, uninsured patients has gone down, but what we have seen is an increase in Medicaid,” Mercy Health CFO Matt Love said.

Love said the increase in patients with heath care coverage also has led to greater access to local services, including more visits to local emergency rooms, physicians’ offices and hospital admissions over the last 18 months. But at least one local doctor argues success is not quite that simple.

“It is not just are they insured. It is are they insurable, or are they able to afford insurance?,” Dr. Sean McGrath said.

McGrath is the past president of the Mahoning County Medical Society. He said while the Affordable Care Act has provided coverage for some, it is actually hurting others.

“It is still that working middle class. They are still getting, they are still getting killed. I don’t see where that has really changed,” McGrath said.

He claims the real winners have been the insurance companies, while patients have seen their premiums and deductibles skyrocket.

“The people who need it most are still paying the most when they probably can’t afford to be paying that much,” McGrath said.

But others argue that outcomes for patients who have been enrolled are much better than when they had no insurance.

“They just stayed away from the doctors when they were sick. They tried to get over it, so sometimes it took them three weeks to heal from a cold. Now, it is taking them a couple days because they are able to go to the doctor,” Bishop said.

As for the future, Bishop said state health officials are still struggling to process new Medicaid enrollees. More than 500,000 people were added to the system the past 18 months in Ohi0, which is 100,000 more than expected.

In the meantime, McGrath worries more and more doctors will retire, or simply stop taking Medicaid patients, while consumers still have trouble finding affordable insurance.

“I don’t like where I see it going right now,” McGrath said.

But he also does not see the law many call Obamacare ever being repealed.

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