Educating people about available tax subsidies and Medicaid enrollment are top healthcare reform priorities right now.
By the end of December, more than 6 million Americans had enrolled in a health insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), either buying private insurance or signing up for Medicaid in a state that agreed to expand the program.
We’re now midway through ACA open enrollment for 2014, which ends March 31. But in the midst of a rocky rollout and a slew of misleading media reports of “horror stories,” a very important fact has gotten lost: Obamacare makes health insurance more affordable for millions of Americans.
That is, after all, one of the reasons it’s called the Affordable Care Act. But as a new survey shows, 72 percent of uninsured Americans are not aware that tax subsidies are available to help make buying insurance more affordable.
This national survey [PDF] revealed that more than eight in 10 uninsured Americans say they would sign up for an affordable health insurance plan if one is available. Seven in 10 said they haven’t previously purchased insurance because they couldn’t afford it, and about the same number of uninsured consumers say they are unaware that they might be eligible for financial assistance.
Erin Knott, Michigan state director of Enroll America, explains the current push for awareness.
With the website problems behind us, more and more uninsured and underinsured Michiganders are connecting to healthcare coverage. But people haven’t paid attention to the fact that they may be eligible for subsidies. We want them to know they can sit down with someone who has been certified by the federal government to help them find out how much assistance they can get and how they can apply.
There are also new calculators available to help consumers determine their eligibility for financial assistance. To find the calculator or get in-person help with enrollment questions from a certified expert, visit GetCoveredAmerica.org. This help isn’t just for people seeking financial assistance — anyone can meet with an expert about enrolling in coverage. The website also features details about a Weekend of Action coming up on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend. You can attend an event or sign up to volunteer for one at the Action Center link on the site.
The other important development for people who think they can’t afford insurance is Medicaid expansion. Michigan’s version of Medicaid expansion, dubbed the “Healthy Michigan” plan, goes into effect on April 1. Sadly, not launching the expansion on January 1 is costing the state $7 million a day, every day until the program kicks in.
It’s also keeping people like Lynn of Warren from getting more affordable insurance until then. Lynn, who is a full-time caregiver for her disabled husband and ailing mother, tried to sign up on Healthcare.gov. There, she learned her income was too low to qualify for tax subsidies, so she didn’t enroll for a new plan through the marketplace to replace her current one.
It is presently costing me $4,810 annually with a $7,500 deductible for just my personal health insurance coverage. I am 61 years old and am in good health, but cannot afford to take the chance of not having health insurance. I have no income, and my husband receives Social Security Disability in the amount of $1,030 per month. Our expected income for 2014 is $12,562. This coverage is costing over 38 percent of our income, and we cannot live on less than $7,800 per year, no matter how many coupons I clip.
In December, Lynn was told she wouldn’t qualify for Medicaid — but that was before the federal government approved the Healthy Michigan plan, which has cost-sharing and healthy living requirements that Medicaid doesn’t. She’s counting on being eligible for the Healthy Michigan plan.
Ryan Sullivan, policy director for Michigan Consumers for Healthcare, urges people like Lynn to try again. He also says that anyone who thinks they might be eligible for Healthy Michigan should go ahead and begin the enrollment process as soon as possible.
People may be afraid their application will go somewhere and never be seen again if they apply this early, but there’s a case to be made for applying now and keeping track of your application. The program will begin April 1, but there’s no reason to wait to learn what your options are so you can be as prepared as possible.
Michigan is still getting the Healthy Michigan program set up, but certified navigators are available to help now. In Michigan, visit EnrollMichigan.com. People in other states can visit EnrollAmerica.org to find an in-person navigator.
Sullivan emphasizes that enrollment in Medicaid or the Healthy Michigan plan is always open — there is no cut-off date. “People will always have the option to enroll whenever the need arises,” he says. “People shouldn’t wait to enroll, but Medicaid is always there if you need it.”
As more details become available about enrolling in the Healthy Michigan plan, we’ll post the information.
[Photo credit: Amy Lynn Smith]