WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, is scheduled to become effective Jan. 1.

States and regions across the country are hustling to set up the complex mechanics of the system in time, while many consumers are a bit flummoxed trying to figure out what it means for them.

Lara Shore-Sheppard, professor of economics at Williams College, will address the ACA rollout during the last of this winter's Faculty Lecture Series, titled "Insuring the Uninsured Before and After the Affordable Care Act."

She will be speaking at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday in the Wege Auditorium in Thompson Chemistry on the Williams College campus. Admission is free.

The beauty of the ACA is that it makes health insurance much more affordable than it has been in the past for people on the lower end of the income scale, Shore-Sheppard said.

Right now, unless someone has health insurance through their employer, it is largely unaffordable for people working part time, as independent contractors, employed by a small business or unemployed, she said.

Folks on the low end of income levels typically do not seek medical attention because they don't have health insurance and can't afford health care -- until the medical situation becomes acute, even dangerous. And even after an emergency room visit, follow-up care is often passed over for the same reason.

"Preventative care is not done, and over time they just get worse," Shore-Sheppard noted.

With the ACA, through tax rebates and specially created insurance marketplaces, sliding-scale insurance policies will adjust according to the income of the individual. People who are below a certain percentage of the poverty line will be completely covered through expanded Medicaid programs.

But because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can't be required to expand their Medicaid programs, several states have thus far declined to do so, leaving the poorest of their residents without an option to pay for health care.

"The poorest will not be covered in those states," Shore-Sheppard said.

Today there are roughly 48 million uninsured men, women and children in the United States.

Shore-Sheppard said it is hard to know how many of those will remain uninsured because some of the reluctant states are reconsidering.

"We're all sort of hoping the states will switch their positions on Medicaid expansion," she said.

But some, like Texas, she said, remain uninterested in health care for their poorest residents.

In any case, after it's implemented, the ACA will definitely result in "significantly more people with health insurance than there are today," Shore-Sheppard said.

And with more people getting better health care, that could improve the economy in the long run.

"We think that having a healthier population is better for the economy and society in the long run," Shore-Sheppard said.

It is a complicated topic, she noted, and through her lecture, she hopes to clarify what ACA can do for local folks to improve their health insurance coverage.

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6241.
On Twitter: @BE_SStafford