My Turn: Uninsured? Today’s the day to change that
Starting today, people can sign up to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. This means you and your family cannot be denied coverage, there will be more affordable options and you may qualify for up-front tax credits that could reduce prices.
The new law doesn’t affect the benefits of those who have Medicare, and if you have employer coverage your health care likely stays the same. But for the 125,645 currently uninsured New Hampshire residents, this presents an opportunity.
There has been ample political hoopla relating to this law, but let’s instead try to answer some basic questions about what it means for New Hampshire citizens.
First of all, what’s going to be available? Starting today, you can go online to healthcare.gov to shop for a health insurance plan in the New Hampshire “marketplace.” The health insurance you are offered there will cost a certain amount per month (a “premium”) plus a certain amount out of pocket (“coinsurance”) every time you get medical care. There is a minimum (a “deductible”) you have to pay each year before your insurer will pay for the rest of your medical care, but there is also a cap on how much you will ever have to pay in any year. Coverage will start on Jan. 1, 2014.
What you are buying is insurance that allows you to see doctors, get hospital care, prescription drugs, dental care and other kinds of scans and treatments from MRIs to surgeries. Under the rules of Obamacare, you can’t be thrown off this insurance if you get sick and you can’t be denied coverage if you’re sick now. The insurance company also can’t put a limit on how much they spend on you, and you are guaranteed to get covered for all basic services. None of this was true before.
Why might this be affordable for you? Because Obamacare includes tax credits and limits how much you have to pay based on your income. For example, let’s say that you are single, 27 years old and make $34,000 a year. You will be able to buy insurance in the online marketplace for $272 a month with a $2,500 deductible. If you make less, like $11,000 a year, you could have monthly premiums of just $18 and a deductible as low as $500. The costs are more in some situations, less in others. You will have to select what is affordable for you.
Why is it a good idea to have health insurance in the first place? Because it not only means you can get medical care that keeps you healthy or treats you when you get sick, it also means that if you do get sick or injured, you won’t go bankrupt – your insurance will cover almost all of the costs of your treatment.
Remember, half of the bankruptcies in America happen when people get sick. Emergency rooms may have to take you if are sick or injured, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get billed for thousands of dollars later. Health insurance means you don’t have to worry about that. With the plan’s cap on your costs, an individual won’t pay more than $6,300 in any year, even if they have a difficult and expensive medical condition.
How can you find out which health insurance plan makes sense for you and your family, or if you qualify for tax credits? You can call 800-318-2596 to connect to a “navigator” who can walk you through the application process and answer questions. You can go online to www.healthcare.gov to shop for insurance, learn more, or chat online directly with an expert assistant. Soon you will also be able to get information from local organizations that are trained to help, including the New Hampshire Bi-State Primary Care Association.
I urge everyone who doesn’t have insurance or who has bare-bones insurance to look into this between today and Dec. 15. Health care coverage helps individuals, families and our economy. It protects folks physically and financially while it gives everyone the same access to doctors and medicines that insured folks now receive.
Rather than arguing about shutting down government or defaulting on our national debt obligations, let’s use this opportunity for many working people in New Hampshire to finally afford health insurance. If you or a loved one are uninsured, call the 800-318-2596 number or go online to www.healthcare.gov .
(Sylvia Larsen of Concord is the Democratic leader of the New Hampshire Senate.)