The Affordable Healthcare Act needn’t make you sick
Millions of uninsured Arizonans began trolling the internet two months ago, looking for bargains on health insurance offered through the Affordable Care Act, the just-launched federal health-care law. Popularly known as “Obama-care,” the health-care law extends coverage to most all Americans. The new insurance plans won’t commence until January 1, and although Arizonans have until March 31 to sign up for new policies, some despair of having to navigate the ever-crashing government website offering those policies by then – or of ever understanding what “Obama-care” means for them.
“People are nervous about applying, or applying incorrectly,” says Edny Gonzalez, co-executive director of Helping Families in Need, a non-profit Medicare assistance agency that was recently funded to help navigate Affordable Care Act applications. “We try to reassure people that most of them don’t have to do anything at all, so long as their current health plan qualifies under the Act and, of course, if they’re happy with their current insurance. Particularly if they have Medicare, they’re all set.”
The new health-care law mandates that insurers can no longer deny coverage to the sick, nor charge the elderly significantly higher rates for coverage. Insurance agencies must also provide benefits in ten health care categories, including mental health, overnight hospital stays and maternity care. Those without health insurance who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level (that’s about $46,000 for an individual or $94,000 for a family of up to four people) will be eligible for new, sliding-scale subsidies.
State and federal health care marketplaces are available at healthcare.gov, which allows users to input basic information – age, state of residence, health conditions – to determine eligibility. Those whose income is low enough will be directed by the site to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, our state’s answer to Medicaid.
Gonzalez recommends looking into new tax credit programs that can augment insurance premiums, besides. “If you qualify for these programs, your income will be averaged, based on your tax records,” she explains, “and you may be issued a tax credit that will be paid directly to your insurance company of choice. You pay the remainder.”
This potentially deep discount is designed to help lower-income families and individuals afford mandatory insurance, Gonzalez says. “One of the biggest misconceptions is that even those people who can’t afford health insurance have to go buy some, now,” she says. “What’s true is there’s help available that will let you afford it.” Another misconception is that you have to switch your health coverage to another company.
“If you’re happy with your policy, and it qualifies,” she says, “stay put!”
Who can help?
Several Arizona agencies have been awarded federal funding to help provide outreach and enrollment assistance to those shopping for new health insurance policies.
Blue Cross Blue Shield Arizona
Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBSAZ) and Chicanos por la Causa have partnered up to educate Arizonans about the health-care reform law. Their focus is on persons who likely haven’t had insurance in the past and may not understand how the law will benefit them. The team will make bilingual health care advisors available and host information events.
Campesinos sin Fronteras, Inc.
This agency, which serves Hispanic communities statewide, provides services to farm workers and low-income individuals. Its Campesinos Navigator program also provides enrollment assistance to uninsured individuals in Yuma County and beyond.
The Greater Phoenix Urban League, Inc.
This agency, designed to provide the disadvantaged with tools to achieve economic and social equality, offers a comprehensive, statewide, public awareness campaign aimed at identifying and assisting uninsured individuals across Arizona to access and navigate the Health Exchange Marketplace.
Arizona Alliance of Community Health Centers
With a grant of more than a million dollars, the Alliance, which has promoted the development of, and access to, affordable health care, coordinates a statewide outreach program to assist people in finding insurance providers based on their annual income.