In the coming days, you’ll start to hear a lot about the new state “health care exchange” that will enable Washingtonians without health care insurance to purchase affordable plans. Here in Washington, the exchange is called “healthplanfinder” and you can find it at www.wahealthplanfinder.org.
The healthplanfinder will make it easy for any Washington citizen who needs health insurance, and is not covered by an employer’s health plan or other insurance, to shop for affordable coverage. Employees who currently pay for expensive health plans through their employers may also use the healthplanfinder 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. In addition, many people will qualify for subsidies to help offset the cost.
Enrollment through the healthplanfinder opens on Oct. 1, but you don’t have to wait until then to learn more about your options. You can sign up for alerts and updates at www.wahealthplanfinder.org and I will issue regular updates through my Twitter account, @KarenKeiser1, and through the Senate Democratic Caucus’ Twitter account, @WASenDemocrats, which you can sign up for by clicking the Twitter button on my homepage.
In the meantime, here are some answers to commonly asked questions.
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 or other health insurance, can shop for affordable health coverage through the healthplanfinder. The healthplanfinder enables people to shop for health coverage and costs in an apples-to-apples comparison. Most folks will likely qualify for premium tax credits to help pay for the insurance premiums.
Q: When can you enroll in plans under Washington’s healthplanfinder?
A: Open enrollment for plans will begin on Oct. 1 of this year. You can visit the website now to start planning your costs. Go to www.wahealthplanfinder.org for a start.
Q: When will coverage begin?
A: Coverage will begin on Jan. 1, 2014.
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.
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 the Washington healthplanfinder (www.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 www.wahealthplanfinder.org and you will likely 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 www.wahealthplanfinder.org. Check it out when enrollment opens this October.
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.