A group of health insurance providers, business leaders, and small business owners gathered this week to discuss the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act in San Benito County. The panel included Dr. Lawrence Cappel of San Benito Medical Associates, Andrew Shelton of Shelton Insurance, Sean Borchardt of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., Hannah Feeley of the county’s Health and Human Services Department, and Rhea Aguinaldo of the Small Business Majority, a Sausalito-based non-profit working to educate Californians on the new health care law. About 20 Chamber of Commerce members attended the meeting at the YMCA conference room. Breakfast was provided by Hazel Hawkins Hospital.

Each panelists gave a brief overview of the “state of health coverage” in the county from his or her perspective. The presentations were followed by a brief Question and Answer session with participants mainly asking about timelines, employer requirements, and implementation issues.  Aguinaldo explained the marketplace exchanges that will be an integral part of the new law. They are online summaries of health care plans where Californians – individuals, families and businesses – can compare prices and services before choosing which health insurance to purchase.

“There will be small business tax credits and other new features that the exchanges will outline,” Aguinaldo explained. Covered California, the nation’s most extensive state exchange, has been established to streamline the process and provide competitive health insurance choices for small businesses. A small business is defined as having 50 or fewer full-time employees. The Covered California website can be found by clicking here. Rhea Aguinaldo can be reached at 415-654-4846.

Under the new law, people may not be denied coverage due to pre – existing conditions.

Larry Cappel of the San Benito Medical Associates represents 120 local physicians.

“Your doctors here are actually very good physician,” Cappel said. One hundred percent are board-certified and there are more specialists per capita in San Benito County than any other county, Cappel said. He noted, however, that many residents go outside of the county for medical care which affects our economic development and the ability to support our local hospital and clinics. He added that there are currently 14,000 people in San Benito County without insurance.

Andrew Shelton of Richard W. Shelton Insurance Marketing, Inc., walked through the steps for small business owners and noted that the new law still brings up many questions. One misconception, he said, is that some people believe healthcare will now be free. The law mandates coverage, but does not provide it for free. People will be required to purchase insurance or face a fine on their personal income taxes. Shelton said his office is happy to act as a resource for residents with questions. Shelton can be reached at 637-1138 or

Hannah Feeley said the county has begun to process requests for Medi-Cal and will be working closely with Covered California to ensure that all residents have coverage. For information on the county’s assistance programs, click here.

The forum was co-sponsored by BenitoLink, Hazel Hawkins, the San Benito County Business Council, Shelton Insurance, the Chamber of Commerce and Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. For more information on getting coverage for your family, click here.