Sen. Hasegawa’s enewsletter update 10/16/2013

October 16th, 2013|

Dear 11th District constituents,

I’m sure you’ve been hearing plenty about the new “health care exchange” that will enable individuals and families to purchase affordable plans under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Here in Washington, the exchange is called “wahealthplanfinder” and it can be found at www.wahealthplanfinder.org.

Though it encountered some technical difficulties on the first couple days of operation last week, the initial bugs have been fixed and anyone who logs in can now access the healthplanfinder website quickly and easily. The healthplanfinder makes it simple for any Washington citizen who needs health insurance, and is not covered by an employer’s health plan, to shop for affordable coverage in an apples-to-apples comparison.

Beware misleading imitators

There is only one state-run healthplanfinder website, www.wahealthplanfinder.org, but a number of sites with similar sounding names have been created by companies looking to pitch potential customers directly and, in some cases, by actual scam artists hoping to steal your personal information.

For instance, users could easily confuse the real wahealthplanfinder website with close-sounding names such as www.washingtonhealthplanfinder.com or www.washingtonhealthplanfinder.org. In fact, one lookalike website even reads “Welcome to the Plan Finders” and offers a subsidy calculator. Don’t be fooled though, these websites are not run by the state and do not offer the same privacy protections. The only true state website is www.wahealthplanfinder.org. That’s org, not com; and WA is abbreviated, not spelled out as Washington. Most importantly, the federal tax credits that many people will qualify for and which will result in lower premiums are available only through www.wahealthplanfinder.org.

You can read more about some of the misleading sites here.

Meanwhile, here are some answers to commonly asked questions.

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Q: Who can purchase health care through the healthplanfinder?

A: Citizens and immigrants legally present in Washington who need health insurance, and are not covered by an employer’s health plan, can shop for affordable health coverage through the wahealthplanfinder.org. Most folks will likely qualify for premium tax credits to help offset the cost. In addition, some employees who currently pay for expensive health plans through their employers may also use the wahealthplanfinder.org to find a more affordable plan. All plans available through the healthplanfinder have been approved by the state insurance commissioner to ensure that they provide high quality and good value and meet all legal requirements.

Q: When will coverage begin?

A: Coverage will begin on Jan. 1, 2014. By enrolling sometime in the next three months, you can have everything in place well ahead of the Jan. 1 coverage date.

Q: Who will benefit from shopping through the healthplanfinder?

A: The healthplanfinder is designed for people who buy their own insurance or are currently without insurance. This includes people who work part-time and don’t qualify for benefits through their employers, or who don’t have health coverage offered from an employer, those who are self-employed, and those who have retired early and don’t yet qualify for Medicare. Individuals and families will be able to choose and compare a number of comprehensive insurance plans.

Q: I get my health insurance through the military Tricare system. What’s going to change for me because of the healthcare law?

A: Nothing. The healthcare law sets requirements for minimum coverage that satisfy the requirements for having insurance. Existing programs like Tricare, Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits, COBRA benefits or your current employer-provided health plan all satisfy the requirements for coverage.

Q: Who qualifies for help to buy insurance?

A: People with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level (a family of four with an income of $94,200, for instance) will qualify for help. The tax credits are based on a sliding scale, so those who make lower incomes receive a higher credit. The credit applies immediately when you purchase insurance – you don’t have to wait until you file your taxes. The credit is designed to make health insurance affordable for most people.

Q: I don’t think I am going to qualify for help with my premium, but I also can’t afford to buy insurance. What penalty will I face if I choose not to buy coverage?

A: The law does not require you to purchase health insurance if the premium would exceed 8 percent of your income. But you should explore your options. As of Jan. 1, 2014, Medicaid coverage will expand to citizens who earn up to about $34,000 for a family of four, or about $15,000 for an individual. It will cover most people earning minimum or near-minimum wages. Medicaid has no premiums or co-payments and provides comprehensive care.

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Q: I own a small business, with just a few employees; what will I have to do?

A: Nothing. If you don’t provide health insurance now, and you have fewer than 50 full-time employees, nothing needs to change. But your employees will become eligible to purchase individual health care at wahealthplanfinder.org and they will probably receive premium assistance to help cover the cost of the premium.

Q: My premium right now through my employer is very expensive, and I am hoping that I can find a better deal through the healthplanfinder. Will I be able to purchase coverage through the healthplanfinder?

A: If your current premium costs more than 9.5 percent of your household income, you will be able to purchase insurance at wahealthplanfinder.org and you may qualify for a premium tax credit. If your employer plan is very skimpy and only pays about 60 percent of the cost, you may also qualify for help through the wahealthplanfinder.org.

Q: I heard that benefits will be cut for Medicare under ObamaCare; is that true?

A: No, that is false. Unfortunately, some opponents of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called ObamaCare, have gone out of their way to distort the facts and try to frighten people about changes in health care coverage and costs. All indications are that costs will be lower, and benefits will be broader. For example, co-pays for more than 60 preventative screenings, tests and immunizations are eliminated under ObamaCare. All the plans must cover 10 essential benefits, including prescription drug coverage. Most “cut rate” plans have few benefits fully covered. ObamaCare plans are comprehensive, and you choose the premiums and co-pays that fit your budget.

Q: I do not have internet access, and everything I see about enrollment so far directs me to websites. How can I enroll?

A: Washington’s health care exchange is developing a statewide in-person assistance network to provide in-person support for those who need additional assistance enrolling through wahealthplanfinder.org. You can learn more about the network by calling 1-855-WAFINDER (1-855-923-4633) or TTY/TDD 1-855-627-9604. Many community organizations are also sponsoring in-person enrollment events at local institutions; check your community calendars for an event near you.

I hope you found this information helpful. I’ll be in touch again soon with another update.

Best wishes,

Bob