Local federally funded health center extends hours as Obamacare deadline nears

March 26– The final deadline for open enrollment for required health insurance in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, is five days away.

The deadline to enroll in Obamacare is Monday, March 31, to be considered covered and avoid the IRS penalty for failing to have an eligible health insurance plan. The penalty for failing to have an eligible health care plan during 2014 is $95 person, or one percent of household income above the tax-filing threshold, which is $10,150 for an individual, whichever is greater.

In other words, if your yearly income is $20,150, and you do not have health insurance, you would be penalized one percent of $10,000, which is $100. The maximum penalty per household for 2014 is $285.

The next open enrollment period for health insurance under Obamacare is in November 2014, but there are certain “qualifying events” that would allow some individuals to enroll between March 31 and the next open enrollment period.

 

Examples of qualifying events are moving to a new state, certain changes in your income, and changes in your family size, such as if you marry, divorce or have a baby. 

Individuals always have the option of buying health insurance from a private provider and avoiding the penalty–so long as it’s considered an eligible plan–but for those hoping to qualify for subsidies to help pay for the health insurance, or an exemption from the requirement altogether, you must apply through the federal government exchange.

One consideration to keep in mind is that even if you do buy health insurance from a private provider, if it is after March 31, you will incur some form of penalty unless you receive an exemption. 

Under the ACA, all Americans are required to have an eligible healthcare plan unless they receive an exemption, but the government allows for a three month lapse in coverage per year. Any time without healthcare beyond that three month allowance is penalized.

According to Jennifer Jones, a Certified Application Counselor with Lifespan Health in Savannah, the penalty for failure to buy healthcare insurance is prorated depending on how long any individual is without it per year.

Certified Application Counselors are trained and certified under standards set by the federal government, and have undergone background checks. Informally, at Lifespan, Certified Application Counselors are also called enrollment specialists.

Enrollment specialists at Lifespan have been working over the past several months to inform the community and assist those needing help to navigate the federal exchange web site.

Jones said that Lifespan has received nearly 3,500 inquiries about Obamacare and the web site since the enrollment specialists were certified and began taking appointments. Those inquiries have come through phone calls, during public outreach and seminars and private visits with a specialist. 

The enrollment specialists at Lifespan are available to assist anyone in the community, free of charge, with questions about Obamacare or to sign up through the federal exchange.

“We’ve helped over 340 people here in Savannah actually enroll so far–that’s the whole thing, from selecting a plan, signing up and paying for coverage. More are signing up as we speak. We’ve also helped people get exemptions, and have even found some people who are eligible for TennCare that didn’t know it,” said Jones.

Enrollment Specialist Christy McClendon added that the Internet access to the federal exchange has vastly improved since it first opened, allowing for much faster processing for those seeking health insurance.

“We can usually complete an application, start to finish, in anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour and a half,” said McClendon. McClendon cautioned against waiting until the last few days before the deadline to enroll, however, as web traffic is likely going to increase, which could cause delays.

Jones shared some success stories from Lifespan’s efforts to help people enroll in eligible plans, such as, “self-employed people, and some who work for a small business that didn’t provide coverage.” 

She added that another consideration are those at or near retirement age. “We’ve helped the spouse of someone drawing Social Security, but she wasn’t old enough to draw Medicare yet, and also someone on disability who hasn’t reached the two year waiting period to get on Medicaid. 

“We have helped get coverage for people who literally haven’t had insurance in years. One of our clients thanked me and said, ‘It is a lifesaver.’” 

Jones and McClendon also related a story of a family that, while going through the application process for Obamacare, learned they were eligible for TennCare and had not known it. 

“We had a family that qualified for mom, dad and kids–they came in to purchase coverage. The mom, who had health issues for many years and didn’t know she could get covered–she’d been needing surgery for years and never knew she was eligible for TennCare” said Jones.

 Jones stresses that the most important thing is that if you aren’t currently enrolled in an eligible health care plan, at least go through the application process before the deadline.

“Our help is free, and we can either help people select and buy a plan, or see if they’re eligible for subsidies or an exemption; we’re even finding people eligible for TennCare–we’re here to help,” said Jones.

Lifespan is offering Obamacare counseling with a Certified Application Counselor, during normal operating hours, at their main office at 765 Florence Road. Lifespan also offers extended evening and Saturday hours until the March 31 deadline by appointment only.

Lifespan can be reached at 925-2300.

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