BAKERSFIELD, CA - Local health care advocates joined other similar groups across the state in celebrating the third anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. Saturday marks three years since President Obama enacted the historic law and the advocates want to show how it has already helped thousands in Kern County.
Before the signing, health care was a challenge for Maria Taft. "It's really tight because I'm a widow and I live with my pension only. And, it's hard to go to work and pay the doctor, pay medicine, and pay rent and everything. You know, it's a little hard," said Taft of her past.
But, her health hardships are in the past, and local health care advocates celebrated success stories like hers on Friday. Among them, Carmen Burgoas with Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance.
"We know that a lot of our individuals that are low income are unaware of services that are, that they can apply, but also how to obtain access once they have the coverage," said Burgoas.
After Obamacare was signed, the federal government agreed to let California provide early health care enrollment called the Bridge to Health Reform. At Kern Medical Center, it's called the Kern Medical Center health plan, offered through the January 2014 deadline.
Jacey Cooper with KMC says it provides free to low cost health care at 29 clinics across Kern County and the county and federal government split the cost.
"They will have coverage when it switches over into the transition, which is why we are trying to encourage as many people as possible to get enrolled now, so that we are not all running in at the same time. But, we are kind of easing into the transition of health reform and getting the word out sooner rather than later," said Cooper.
Those enrolled will convert to the 100 percent federally funded Medi-cal or Cover California in January.
To qualify, you must live in Kern County, be between the ages of 19 and 64, be a U.S. citizen or a five-year resident, not qualify for any other public insurance program, and meet income guidelines.
It's how Maria was able to get a needed $26,000 hysterectomy for free.
"My life is really good right now because I'm not having trouble with doctors and this and that, because with this program, the KMC program. I am really happy," said Taft.
Cooper says currently 7,000 people are enrolled in the Kern Medical Health Plan. But, she estimates 38,000 would be eligible. For more information, visit www.kmchp.com.