Contributed by K.T. McKee
The clock is ticking.
By the time this article comes out, there will only be about two weeks left before open enrollment for ObamaCare coverage in 2017 ends on January 31st. And despite the current political rhetoric, people who enroll for this year will not be kicked off of their insurance.
It’s going to take a while for a repeal or partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the installation of a new program, so please don’t let any of this stop you from getting covered now.
I understand the healthcare.gov website can be frustrating and confusing. But that’s what professional assisters like yours truly are for. And our services are free and confidential. I can be reached at 891-6940 or firstname.lastname@example.org. There also are certified assisters at Mat-Su Health Services, Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, and the Sunshine Clinics in Willow and Talkeetna.
I can’t tell you how many times I have helped someone create their Marketplace account, complete their application, and enroll in truly affordable health plans and heard the phrase, “Wow! That wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be!”
More Alaskans now qualify for Medicaid coverage as well, and can find out if they qualify for it through an application on healthcare.gov. You can apply for Medicaid coverage all year long, not just during the ACA Open Enrollment period. You should know however, that a backlog of Medicaid cases is causing a longer delay in getting coverage, so it’s a good idea to apply sooner than later.
Depending on your estimated household income and family size, you could qualify for a Premera Blue Cross policy with Advanced Premium Tax Credits that can be applied immediately to lower your monthly premiums. Many people I have helped enroll were able to get coverage for less than $150 per month. If they chose a bronze policy, they had higher deductibles than those who chose a silver policy. Since the bronze monthly costs are lower than with the silver, some people would rather pay less and take their chances they won’t have to use their insurance.
Regardless of which “metal level” you choose, you can still get your free preventative annual exams, including mammograms and for those at least 50 years old, colonoscopies. Even if you have a deductible of $5,000, for example, you will still be in better shape than if you didn’t have insurance at all if you are diagnosed with a serious illness or break a leg, etc. Medical costs add up very quickly. One CT scan can cost $5K.
Some people believe they are better off just going without insurance and paying the penalty for not being covered. That penalty is now $695 per uninsured person in your household or 2.5% of your household income - whichever is higher. If something happens to you however, and you end up in the hospital, being without insurance can have dire consequences. Is that a gamble you really want to take?
If you’d like to find out what you’d qualify for before actually applying, this tool on healthcare.gov can be very helpful. It’s anonymous and quite accurate if you are putting in your best guess for your 2017 income: https://www.healthcare.gov/see-plans/.
My best to everyone in this New Year. May we all be as happy and healthy as possible.
K.T. McKee is a navigator specialist for Get Covered Alaska through the Alaska Primary Care Association. She has been a Mat-Su resident for the past 13 years and helped many Valley residents enroll in health coverage since 2013.