Sylvia M. Burwell is the secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services Department. (AFRO File Photo)

U.S. Health and Human Service Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell joined D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and other District officials in launching this year’s Affordable Care Act open enrollment in the city.

On Nov. 1, Burwell and Norton and D.C. Council member Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) attended the District of Columbia Health Link fair with dozens of District residents at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library. Nov. 1 was the first day nationally for open enrollment for Obamacare, the federal government’s health care program for those who don’t have insurance from their employers.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (Twitter Photo)

Burwell said millions of Americans have taken advantage of the program. “There are 17.6 million Americans have coverage because of the Affordable Care Act,” the Burwell said.  “Because of the program’s success, we have the lowest level of people who are uninsured on record. And because of our efforts, everyone’s insurance is better.”

The District of Columbia was one of 12 state-level jurisdictions that took advantage of setting up its own health insurance marketplace shortly after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010. Statistics provided by D.C. Health Link report that 25,702  District residents have signed up for a private insurance plan, 125,000 have enrolled in Medicaid, the program for low-income residents, and 22,000 District employees have signed up for the small business component.

District residents can enroll in a health insurance plan through DCHealthLink.com. Residents who enroll on or before December 15 will have their benefits effective on January 1, 2016, according to a press release. After that date, plan selections made by the 15th of each month during Open Enrollment will be effective on the first day of the following month. Small businesses—as well as individuals and families eligible for Medicaid—can enroll through DCHealthLink.com at any point.

Burwell said that because of the Affordable Care Act “a young person graduating from college can stay on their parents health care plan until they are 26-years-old, a young Mom will be cancer-free because she could afford a checkup, and many Americans don’t have to worry about falling into debt because of health care costs.”

The secretary said the open enrollment period ends on Jan. 31, 2016. She said the federal health care program had some problems in the past but they have been addressed. “We have fewer people that are uninsured and that is a good problem to have,” Burwell said. “We are working to get out the word to people who are not insured that there is financial assistance available and that 7 out of 10 Americans have plans that cost $75 or less.”

She said the federal web site has been improved and access to the site’s financial tools is available to consumers via the Internet and social media. The secretary said that Americans should be able to enroll easily by computer and smartphone or with the people who have been trained as navigators or in-person assisters.

D.C. Council member Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4)

Norton agrees with Burwell, noting that the District’s health exchange program has a powerful constituency. “Members of Congress and their staffs are customers of the D.C. Health Link,” the delegate said. “A lot of my colleagues on the Hill complain about the District but I have yet to have one member of Congress complain about D.C. Health Link.”

Mila Kofman, the executive director of the city’s health exchange, said that another powerful District resident uses her agency’s plans. “President Obama enrolled in 2013 and re-enrolled in 2014,” she said.

Todd said that his ward has the second largest number of senior citizens in the city and the Affordable Care Act has served them well. “Those senior citizens, as well as business owners and young people, are getting the type of affordable health care they need,” he said.