The Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, has been the subject of partisan rhetoric and misinformation from all political sides for two years, but now it is upon us and people are finding they have to make decisions about their health care that they didn't have to worry about before.
Mercy Hospital, Freeman Health Systems and the University of Missouri Extension Office are coming together to host a series of public meetings to help people learn more about the Act, the options it opens up and the challenges people face navigating the health insurance markets created by the act.
The meeting in Carthage is slated for 6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.Tuesday at the Carthage Junior High Annex, 714 S. Main St., in Carthage.
Another is scheduled for the 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, at the Neosho High School Auditorium in Neosho.
Julie Beatty, Senior Markets Specialist for Mercy Hospital, said the meetings are free and open to the public.
Beatty said people attending will learn:
• How the new law affects them.
• Basic health insurance terms, or words used in the law and in health insurance.
• Their health insurance options.
• About the health insurance market place.
• How to get enrolled.
• What subsidies are available to individuals.
“It's such a complex issue, for many people, this is just not what they're schooled on,” Beatty said. “There is an education element there just describing basic insurance terms. We'll talk about what the law is, how it could potentially affect individuals. We'll talk a little bit about the insurance terms, what the options are in general terms. What is a marketplace? How do you get enrolled?”
Beatty said well-documented problems with the Affordable Care Act website, healthcare.gov., are frustrating, but people have time to enroll in an insurance plan, as long as the government meets its timeline of fixing the website.
“We've heard that the end of November is their self-imposed deadline that they're telling us that the website will no longer be as frustrating to use,” Beatty said. “As of today, we have 21 weeks of open enrollment left, so in four weeks, we'll still have a lot of weeks of open enrollment left. Usually it's four to six weeks of open enrollment, so there's a long period of time to enroll to meet the requirement.”
That requirement is also known as the “individual mandate,” that all Americans, with some exemptions for financial hardship and religious objections, must have qualifying health care coverage by the beginning of 2014.
Beatty said the rhetoric coming from all sides of the political spectrum has created misconceptions about the law and its requirements.
Page 2 of 2 - Among the misconceptions she mention is that people think if they don't buy health insurance they will only pay a $95 penalty.
“Some people may not want to buy health insurance so they just say 'I'm just going to pay the $95, I don't want to get involved. It's a mess,'” Beatty said. “That's not necessarily your penalty. In the first year your penalty is $95 per adult and $47.50 per child up to $285 for that family, or one percent of their income, whichever is greater.”
Beatty said the penalty increases to $325 per adult, 162.50 per child up to $925 per family or 2 percent of family income in 2015. It jumps again to $695 per adult, $347.50 per child, up to $2,085 or 2.5 percent of a family's income in 2016.
Another misconception Beatty mentioned is people not understanding the impact of the federal tax subsidy on their insurance premiums, if they qualify for a subsidy.
“When you hear people say 'my plan's going to be cancelled,' they're looking at the premium for the new plan but they're not factoring in what their cost is or what the tax subsidy will be,” she said. “You will get a premium and if you qualify for one of these tax credits, and it covers a pretty wide range for a family of four, the way it works, you get your plan, and based on what your tax subsidy will be, it reduces your premium to what you will have to pay.”