published Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Berke, Rogero, Wharton, Dean: Healthy residents mean healthy cities

By Andy Berke, Madeline Rogero, AC Wharton Jr. and Karl Dean
Tedra Hodge, a Certified Application Councilor helps Adam Cowan, left, apply for the Affordable Care Act at Erlanger Health System.
Tedra Hodge, a Certified Application Councilor helps Adam Cowan, left, apply for the Affordable Care Act at Erlanger Health System.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Local and national coverage

Right now, 800,000 uninsured Tennesseans have an incredible opportunity. One that was unavailable just six months ago but will end in two short weeks. The Health Insurance Marketplace offers quality, affordable coverage to uninsured and under-insured Tennesseans, but enrollment closes on March 31. As the mayors of Tennessee's four largest cities, we are coming together because we want to see our friends, neighbors, and folks all over the state take advantage of these benefits by getting covered. But there's not much time left.

Until recently, the peace of mind and financial security that comes with health insurance was out of reach to many Tennesseans -- because they couldn't afford the coverage that was on the market, or they were denied for a pre-existing condition. An accident or an unexpected illness could plunge a family into bankruptcy, or force them to forgo necessary treatments. Now, however, the Health Insurance Marketplace -- created through the Affordable Care Act -- provides quality coverage including all the basics, like doctors' visits, maternity (care), prescriptions, and preventive care. No longer can anyone be denied or charged extra for a pre-existing condition.

We're hard at work in our own cities across Tennessee to spread the word and educate our residents about the health coverage that's available and the March 31 deadline. We're working with not-for-profits, churches, health care facilities and city agencies to get the word out. This consortium hosts multiple enrollment events daily. To find the event nearest you, just go to www.getcoveredtenn.org.

Certainly, getting covered impacts the individuals and families in our communities, but more residents with health insurance also helps our cities at large. It helps our local economy because our workforce is healthier. It helps our budgets, because it eases the burden on our local health systems. Ultimately, more of our residents getting coverage means better quality of life for all of our residents. Marketplace enrollment events in Chattanooga, like the one held recently at the Downtown Public Library, ensure residents have the information they need to make the best health-care decision for themselves and their families.

These events ensure people like Kayla, a UTC student who's appendicitis caused health problems that would have previously kept her from enrolling, get the health insurance they need to avoid dropping out due to huge medical bills. Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville are making similar pushes to ensure their residents enroll by the end of the month and take advantage of this new opportunity.

If you have someone in your family or a close friend who is among the uninsured or who hasn't completed the process, please help us get the word out that good insurance is available and affordable, and that the deadline is March 31. For the next two weeks, Erlanger hospital, the Medical Foundation of Chattanooga, and American Exchange are working together to make signing up easy. Just call 423-778-LINK (5465) to make an appointment with a certified application counselor.

From the Mississippi to the mountains, quality, affordable coverage is here. But Tennesseans have two weeks left to take advantage of this important new opportunity and get covered not just with health insurance, but also with peace of mind.

Andy Berke is the mayor of Chattanooga. Madeline Rogero is the mayor of Knoxville. AC Wharton Jr. is the mayor of Memphis. Karl Dean is the mayor of Nashville.

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