Like many District entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders, Eric Weaver — founder and chairman of the National Association of Returning Citizens, an advocacy group for people who have served sentences in the criminal justice system — wanted to make sure his employees had access to good health care.

After conducting research with his staff, Weaver decided DC Health Link, the District’s health care exchange, became his best option and contacted them.

“We got in touch with a broker who happened to be a certified business enterprise,” he said. “The broker came to visit and spoke with us about how many employees we had and what were their salaries. Then our employees had the chance to choose from different plans whether it be gold, bronze and silver, that fits their needs.”

Weaver’s nonprofit has joined over 5,100 District employers with 80,000 employees utilizing DC Health Link, statistics compiled by the exchange report. The exchange reports more than 100,000 people in the District have private insurance through it. Average premiums range from $570 for the least expensive plan to $800 for the highest cost plan.

In addition, DC Health Link reports 96 percent of District residents are covered by health insurance, a state-level rate surpassed only by Massachusetts.

Members of Congress and their staffers are eligible to enroll in DC Health Link, its executive director Mila Kofman said.

Weaver said his employees are pleased with DC Health Link and has encouraged participation in open enrollment, the process where people can change their health plans. Open enrollment extends until Jan. 31. Kofman said health plans are being offered despite the coronavirus pandemic in the city.

“In February, we began discussions with our health plans including Aetna, CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente and United Health Care to figure out what each can do on a voluntary basis to help,” Kofman said. “Each health plan identified many immediate actions to help DC Health Link covered residents and businesses.”

Kofman said each health plan offers free telemedicine for primary care and specialty care, including mental health counseling.

“So covered people can get care without cost-sharing and without risk because telemedicine is safe from home or wherever you are,” she said. “You don’t have to go to a doctor’s office. In addition, each health plan on a voluntary basis started to cover diagnosis and testing of COVID-19 without cost-sharing for patients. And thanks to the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, health insurers cover COVID-19 treatment without cost-sharing for patients.”

To ensure coverage during the pandemic, Kofman said terminations of coverage for non-payment of premiums is prohibited in the District during the city’s public health emergency.

“And employers and residents have a year to pay back their owed premiums,” she said. “We never charge late fees or interest for late payment. We gave employers an extra 60 days before they have to start paying back owed premiums. Because we do billing for the more than 5,100 employers covered through DC Health Link, we’ve made all of this automatic. No need to apply or request anything, we are not terminating coverage and the year to pay back owed premiums is automatic. Several health insurers made it easier for enrolled small businesses to stay insured by providing approximately $4.2 million in premium relief this summer.”

The DC Health Link, the District’s health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is a target of conservative opponents of the law. that has come under attack from conservatives who challenged the constitutionality of the law’s individual mandate before the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 10. However, Kofman said “the ACA is the law of the land.”

“Anyone who wants quality health insurance can get it now,” she said.

Kofman said District policymakers embedded health insurance consumer protections into law.

“Our local insurance standards protect people with preexisting conditions,” she said. “However, many people rely on monthly premium reductions called advanced premium tax credits. And thousands of residents rely on expanded public insurance called Medicaid.”

Kofman said “if the Supreme Court strikes down the ACA’s coverage provisions, people everywhere not just in the District would lose premium reductions if they have private coverage and would be in danger of losing Medicaid if they have public insurance.”

The possible loss of Medicaid–a health plan for the indigent–in the District by the high court comes in the wake of the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance announcement Nov. 11 all Medicaid and D.C. Alliance enrollees in its managed care programs have access to every acute care hospital in the city for both inpatient and outpatient hospital-based care.

“The District is fortunate to have a strong hospital network that is equally committed to delivering quality care to persons with either private or publicly-funded health insurance, making possible this watershed policy,” Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services and Department of Health Care Finance Director Wayne Turnage said.

Weaver said he doesn’t deal with Medicaid recipients. He said some of his nearly 40 employees are on their parents’ insurance or have their own insurance. However, he did make one thing clear.

“I think DC Health Link is a good, user-friendly system,” he said. “Using a good broker, my whole team’s health care needs are being taken care of.”

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James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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