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New era of health coverage unfolds | Guest Column
Submitted by San Juan Island Family Resource Center
Beginning Oct. 1, 2013, Washington State will open the first enrollment window for people to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
The intent of the Affordable Care Act is to increase access to health care and improve quality and affordability. Thousands of people up to age 65 who could not afford health insurance may now be able to get it.
If you are very low income, you may get free insurance called Medicaid, and if you have been denied for Medicaid before, you may be able to get it now. Many people with higher incomes will be eligible to get help paying health insurance premiums for individual health insurance plans.
Lots of people have concerns and questions about how the Affordable Care Act will impact their current health insurance coverage. Don’t worry—there are numerous places to receive information and assistance, and there is ample time to enroll in a plan. Here are answers to some common questions:
• If I currently receive Medicare, do I have to enroll in a new health plan?
No – if you are a Medicare recipient, you will continue to receive Medicare benefits. You do not need to worry about enrolling in an Affordable Care plan.
• What if I am sick or have a pre-existing condition?
In 2014 no one can be denied health insurance if they are sick. If you could not get health insurance before, this is your time to do so. Make sure you take action and enroll in a plan between October 1, 2103 and March 23, 2014.
• What should I do if I am already on Medicaid?
Do not enroll in an Affordable Care plan at this time. As always, you should continue to check all mail you receive from your Medicaid provider, to maintain your benefits. If any changes in your current coverage take place, you will be notified directly from your Medicaid provider.
• What happens if I don’t have insurance in 2014?
Most people are required to have health insurance in 2014 or they will have to pay a penalty to the IRS. If you don’t have health insurance by January 1, 2014, most people will have to pay a penalty of $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, up to $285 for a family or 1 percent of their household income, whichever is greater. That penalty amount will increase in 2015. There are some exceptions to this requirement.
• When can I sign up?
You may sign up beginning October 1, 2013. Coverage will start January 1, 2014. People who have Medicaid-level incomes may sign up any time after that. People who want to buy private plans have between October 1, 2013 and March 23, 2014 to sign up. After that time, they have to wait until October 1, 2014 for the next opportunity.
• How do I sign up?
You have several choices for how to enroll:
If you want to enroll on your own, beginning Oct. 1, 2013 you can apply for Medicaid or purchase a private health insurance policy online through the Washington Healthplanfinder, http://www.wahealthplanfinder.org.
You can also find insurance brokers and community assistance agencies listed on the Healthplanfinder website. Washington Healthplanfinder is the only official public website for enrollment. If you receive email solicitations from other sources, be careful—they may not be legitimate providers.
A customer support call center is also available to answer your questions. Representatives are available to help in 175 languages, weekdays from 7:30 a.m. until 8 p.m., toll free at (855) 923-4633.
If you would like local, in-person assistance, there will be a number of individuals in our community who are trained to assist people who need help with their applications. These certified “In-Person Assisters” will be available at local community agencies, and can lead you through the enrollment process.
In the coming weeks, we will provide updates about where you can get additional information, as well as a full list of community sites that will be scheduling in-person enrollment appointments.
For now, to find out where and when you may schedule an appointment with an In-Person Assister, you can contact the San Juan Island Family Resource Center at (360) 378-5246.
— Editor’s note: SJI Family Resource Center, 47 Market St., offers programs, services, resources and referrals to help better the lives and capacities of island families.