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The Affordable Care Act (ACA) — aka “Obamacare” — has greatly expanded the nature and availability health insurance for many Americans. More than 20 million previously uninsured people now have insurance. Persons with preexisting conditions cannot be denied coverage. Young adults under the age of 26 can remain covered under their parents’ policies. Women can no longer be charged more than men. All preventative services must be at no cost. And more than 60 million people have increased access to mental health and substance use disorder coverage.

Despite these achievements, the political prognosis for Obamacare does not look good. Reports of its demise, however, are greatly exaggerated. And premature, because any substantial changes to it would take time to implement and require advance notice to those who have already enrolled. Consequently it remains incumbent on most everyone to have health insurance, and now is the time to enroll. Covered California’s open enrollment period for 2017 began on Nov. 1 and will continue until Jan. 31, 2017.

The UpValley Family Centers (UVFC) in Calistoga and St. Helena have been doing outreach to encourage members of our community to take action during the enrollment period. The Covered California web site for online enrollment or renewal is coveredca.com. However, UVFC advises those who want or need assistance to go to an Ole Health site in Calistoga (911 Washington St.), St. Helena (1222 Pine St.), or Napa (1141 Pear Tree Lane), where there are certified staff trained to help with the application process. There is also trained staff at the Community Health Initiative (CHI) in Napa (2140 Jefferson St., Suite D), and CHI has made staff available at UVFC’s offices in St. Helena and Calistoga to help those who need assistance.

UVFC further encourages those who had a Covered California plan in 2016 to go online, update their applications, and compare their plans with the plans and rates for 2017. Those who do not update their applications will automatically be re-enrolled in your current plan. Finally, UVFC can directly help those who qualify for MediCal apply for benefits or renew an existing application. For more information, contact UVFC at 1500 Cedar St. in Calistoga, (707) 942-6206; or 1440 Spring St. in St. Helena, (707) 963-1919.

Editor’s Note: Michael Caldarola serves on the board of the UpValley Family Centers.

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