On Jan. 1, 2014, key provisions in the Affordable Care Act take effect, one of which is the highly anticipated health insurance marketplace. It is designed to ensure that U.S. citizens nationwide can choose their own health care plans.

DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority

The DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority held a conference in Washington, D.C., to explain important Affordable Care Act rules to a variety of stakeholders. Photo by HBX

However, this means that millions of Americans must learn their new rights and responsibilities — in less than a year. The onus is on health leaders in every state to engage a wide range of stakeholders on how to select health insurance that fits their needs.

Earlier this week, the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority, or HBX, held a conference in Washington, D.C., for a diverse audience — including industry professionals, community advocates, federal workers and district residents — to share information that meets their varied needs.

“We have 35,000 people living in Washington who are uninsured,” said Mohammad Akhter, an executive board member of the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority. “Then there are a lot of people who are underinsured. We can all have health insurance … but my experience tells me it’s only when everyone gets involved that [the system] works.”

Akhter, former executive director of APHA, said that “bringing everyone together in one place” may be a model for leaders in all states — and their unique demographics — to get appropriate, necessary information to their people.

HBX is focusing on three groups of people:

  • the uninsured,  which includes as many as 63,000 D.C. residents for at least part of each year;
  • the underinsured, including those who have health insurance that doesn’t cover all of their needs; and
  • owners of small businesses and their employees.

“D.C. is a small-business town; small businesses are the engine of our economy,” said Richard Sorian, a former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official who now assists HBX. “But they have a hard time buying health insurance and keeping it. Small employers pay an average of 18 percent more for their workers than their larger competitors do. And they also have fewer benefits.

“That’s three groups of people all over the city that we’re going to need to make sure that know what their benefits are and what their responsibilities are under the law.”

Visit APHA online for more ACA resources, including a summary and timeline of public health and prevention provisions.