The Affordable Care Act is law: Now what?

Published in FSD Update

Obamacare has taken effect, but many institutions and contractors are still evaluating its impact.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

Mirlene and Nixon, two employees in the dining services department at the University of Maryland, in College Park, are among some 350 university employees who don’t have health insurance. For the past 10 years, the university has offered its part-time and seasonal employees—most of whom work in dining services or housekeeping—the Healthy Workers Program. The initiative provides employees like Mirlene and Nixon (who wished to be identified by first names only) free access to physicals and routine medical tests at the Campus Health Center.

The costs of these procedures is covered by whichever department the employee reports to, and the Health Center also works with employees with medical conditions to find specialists and surgeons to treat them at little or no charge.

Sister Maureen Schrimpe, quality coordinator for dining services, who oversees the program for the department, says the program makes good business sense; keeping employees healthy allows the department to run more smoothly while keeping customers and fellow employees safe.

But the future of Healthy Workers is grim, thanks to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), legally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and more informally called Obamacare. Joe Mullineaux, senior associate director of dining services, says it likely will disappear. “If everyone is required to have health insurance, how could the university operate a program for people who don’t have insurance?” Mullineaux asks.

Healthy Workers’ shutdown would definitely have an impact on Mirlene and Nixon, even though they would qualify for healthcare benefits under the university plan, which offers co-paid insurance to any employee who has worked for it for at least three years. Both believe in the value of healthcare reform: “It gives people the opportunity to see a doctor,” Nixon says, and both say they plan on buying health insurance—but not yet. “I do not have it now because I do not have enough money,” Mirlene admits.

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