ALAMEDA -- Alameda resident David Saÿen, regional administrator for the federal government's Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services which administers those benefits, has a big job ahead of him.
He and his colleagues are responsible for educating the nation about the Affordable Health Care Act, known to some as "Obamacare," as it rolls out between now and next year. It's a tricky position to be in -- some who have never had health care or don't pay attention to the specifics of the act might not see the value in it while others might not understand how the new program will work.
"It's not like Coca-Cola where they know what it is, know they can get it out of a vending machine, drink it and know that it's refreshing," he said. "That's the thing we see as a huge challenge. We are trying to pinpoint what we need to do to educate people about the Affordable Health Care Act."
The act, which passed in 2010 under the leadership of President Barack Obama, will by next year allow all Americans to have access to affordable health insurance options. People with pre-existing conditions will be able to purchase affordable insurance and middle and low-income families will get tax credits that cover the significant portion of the cost of coverage. Finally, the Medicaid program will be expanded to cover more low-income people. This means that millions of otherwise uncovered people will have health insurance in 2014 and beyond.
These changes have Saÿen, who has worked most of his life in the public sector, fired up because he said the new insurance law levels the playing field for people who have tough-to-insure and expensive pre-existing conditions like diabetes or some severe mental illnesses.
"People will be treated the same whether they have an illness, have had an illness or a have a genetic disposition to get an illness," he said. "It's the basic principle of fairness. I don't think people should have to suffer."
Saÿen has been an Alameda resident since 1999 and has two children in Alameda schools. He is a strong and informed speaker, column writer and radio educator who knows the very smallest details about the act and what it means to the future of health care in the United States. Through his articles, radio programs hosted on several stations in the Western part of the country and through his many speaking engagements, he said he wants to get people excited about the plan and to buy into it.
"He is, I think, considered a major resource of information in terms as what is going on in health care reform," said Deborah Stebbins, CEO of Alameda Hospital who knows Saÿen professionally as a member of the Adaptive Business Leaders, a roundtable of various executives in health care and technology. "I think he's very well regarded in the community and think he's got his constituents at heart."
Saÿen said his greatest challenge will be convincing younger adults to buy into the plan. The younger worker is a tougher sell than older Americans because many are already healthy and may not see the need to spend extra money on health care that could be used on car payments or other expenses.
"We need those (young people) in the pool to balance out the 50- and 60-year-olds who are a higher risk," he said.
He also said he also believes that access to health care and overall good health is vital to a successful nation.
"If you have a country full of healthy people with educations, you'll have a strong country," he added.
When Saÿen is not working as regional administrator for Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, he is working his upright bass and electronic bass in his dance band Spill the Wine. The band often plays at Speisekammer and has played the Park Street Art and Wine Fair and the Webster Street Jam.
"We play music that our wives and girlfriends like, so it has to be danceable," he said.