Alma Molina is a 27-year-old recent Ivy League graduate and self-employed entrepreneur.
She’s also uninsured.
"I'm just hoping I don't catch a cold," Molina said. She is a first generation Hispanic-American and she feels it is her job to explain the 2,700-page Affordable Care Act, also referred to as ACA or “Obamacare,” to her family, including her also self-employed mother.
Molina lost her health insurance two months ago, after the politician she was working for lost his re-election campaign. Now in the middle of starting her own marketing and digital strategy business, she cannot get coverage under her parents’ insurance because she is older than 26. And she does not want to apply for government assistance like Medicaid because, she earnestly pointed out, others need the help more than she does.
"Right now I know what it is to be uninsured so if that means that I have to pay a higher premium to spare other people that insecurity, I'm going to do it."
- Alma Molina, 27-year-old uninsured entrepreneur
Just five months before Molina can begin to enroll in health insurance exchanges, where people who don't have insurance through their jobs will be able to shop around for insurance, it's clear that the burden of understanding Obamacare has shifted from the hallways of Congress to the hungry millennial techies and shops on Main Street, who must come to terms with new regulations, costs and uncertainty.
Healthcare Reform 101 is happening in webinars and conferences all over the country, as millions of everyday Americans attempt to educate themselves about a complex law that continues to befuddle politicians and lawyers alike.
"I'm an attorney, I have been practicing law [for 30 years] and this stuff is going over my head," Michael Barrera, National Entrepreneurship Director of The Libre Initiative and former CEO and President of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said to a group of businesspeople attending The Latino Coalition Small Business Summit in Washington D.C., on Wednesday.
"Unfortunately we have to hire attorneys, accountants, and tax advisors to our payrolls now, and that's less people that aren't able to take care of our customers… I think ultimately ACA has good intentions, but there are a lot of unintended consequences."
The expert panel discussion intended to inform small business owners about the ACA was filled with many honest "We just don't know yet" responses to questions from worried business owners, who will have to soon decide how they will reconcile quality of healthcare and costs.
"Different experts in this area are having trouble helping me, my tax attorney, and my CPA, understand what's coming down the pipeline," said Jeanette Prenger, president and co-owner of Ecco Select, an information technology consulting firm — and one of the top 500 Latino-owned businesses in the United States.
Prenger, who believes Obamacare is overall a good thing, has already been informed by her health carrier that her employee premiums are estimated to go up 50 to 80 percent. Currently she pays $28,000 a month in premiums for her 150 employees. She has been informed by her carrier her premium will more than double to $58,000 a month by January 2014.
"It's burdensome, it's a horrible decision to make whether or not I have to go with a healthcare plan that's not as robust," Prenger said.
The question is, if experts can't decipher it, how are everyday, uninsured Americans going to understand the new healthcare system?
A new poll by the Keiser Foundation found that two-thirds of the uninsured and a majority of Americans don't know how Obamacare will affect them. The poll also found 40 percent of Americans are against the law while 29 percent believe the ACA will make them worse off.
The numbers are even more skewed in the Latino community, the fastest growing in the U.S. A poll by Latino Decisions, released at the Latino Coalition Summit Wednesday, shows that 52 percent of Latinos are not informed about Obamacare and 71 percent could not name any policies that are part of the new law — though 89 percent said they want to learn more.
"We know about two-fifths of all adults in America are uninsured, and more than one-fourth of them are Latinos 18-34," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the keynote speaker at the summit. "About four million of the people we are trying to reach have a primarily language of Spanish."
The woman in charge of making sure that information is disseminated to the Latino community is Mayara E. Alvarez, a director at the Department of Health.
"We are doing great work with the resources we do have, and we are putting every dollar to use," Alvarez said.
The learning curve is steep. Alvarez pointed out that millions of uninsured Americans and Latinos need to learn about the basics of healthcare through churches and community organizations before they can learn about the intricacies of Obamacare.
"Right now we are talking basic education about health insurance," she said. "What's a premium? What's a co-pay? Why is this important?"
Dedicated to high-end historical renovations, Ricardo Navarro is owner and president of Navarro Construction Services, based in Virginia. He has taken the responsibility of teaching his employees about ACA personally.
Started in 2008 at the height of the recession, Navarro employs 10 people — eight are Hispanic legal immigrants. Navarro knows what it's like to have to translate regulations and government bureaucracy for his high-skilled workers. He recalled months ago having to dedicate a full hour just to help two of his plumbing subcontractors deal with parking tickets.
"Now, I have to try to explain a 2,700 page bill," Navarro said.
Navarro expects to pay more for health insurance, but if his rates double or triple, he will have to change how he does business.
But Navarro said not having quality insurance for his employees is not an option.
"I think overall the bill is a good thing, it's a positive thing. A healthy labor force at the end of the day is vital to the business and helps with the bottom line," Navarro said. "I'm eager to learn and find sources of information."
As for Molina, the twenty-something uninsured entrepreneur, she’s ready to tap into as many resources as she can to understand the bill while she is uninsured.
"I'm going to suck it up for four months, and come October, please believe I'm going to raise some hell," Molina said.
But the young entrepreneur is optimistic about Obamacare, regardless of the cost.
"Right now I know what it is to be uninsured, so if that means that I have to pay a higher premium to spare other people that insecurity, I'm going to do it,” she said.