The looming date marks the end of the current open enrollment period under the new Affordable Care Act insurance marketplace at www.healthcare.gov. It’s also the last chance this year that consumers will have to qualify for direct federal subsidies, which can lower their overall health insurance costs, depending on their annual income levels.
“If you’re going to receive a subsidy ... time is of the essence,” Moab Regional Hospital Marketing and Communications Director Jen Sadoff said.
Fortunately, free help is readily available for local residents who want to find the best deals out there, yet may have trouble navigating the new marketplace on their own.
Moab Regional Hospital and the Moab Free Health Clinic recently teamed up to raise awareness about the options that are offered through marketplace, and to guide residents through the application process.
Interest to date has been strong – especially among older and middle-aged residents, according to Moab Free Health Clinic Executive Director Allyson O’Connor. But O’Connor and Sadoff are encouraging younger people and anyone else who needs health insurance to take advantage of the services they’re offering at no cost.
“The plans can be complex,” O’Connor said. “That’s the value of going to either a certified application counselor at the hospital or the free health clinic, or going to a commercial insurance representative.”
O’Connor estimated that 60 percent of the free health clinic’s patients will qualify for some type of subsidy.
The best deals may be available to individuals who earn between $11,500 and $17,000 a year, according to Charlie Kulander, who serves as a certified application counselor at the free health clinic. Similar bargains may be out there for a two-person household with an annual income of $23,000, or a four-person family with a combined income of $36,000 a year, Kulander said.
“They’re going to get an incredible deal where in some cases they will pay $0 for their deductible [out-of-pocket expenses],” he said.
In many cases, Kulander said that currently insured residents are also able to find cheaper plans through the new marketplace. A number of those people are now paying $40 a month for silver-level plans, and in the event that they need medical care, their out-of-pocket costs would be capped at $500, he said.
As a rule, Kulander said that older people who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level can expect to receive greater subsidies. The higher amounts are designed to offset insurance costs that increase as people age.
“As you get older, your premiums start going through the roof,” he said.
Kulander noticed an uptick of interest in the new insurance marketplace just before the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, kicked in on Jan. 1. But he expects that there will be another surge of registration activity before the current open enrollment period closes on March 31.
Applicants who visit the heathcare.gov website between now and then will find that it’s working well, Kulander said. But the much-maligned site is still in need of some repairs.
For instance, Kulander said that some people who qualify for subsidized insurance are instead being shunted off to Medicaid, even though they aren’t eligible for assistance through that program.
“Certainly, some problems are haunting us,” he said.
But that might be all the more reason for those in doubt to seek help at the hospital or the free health clinic.
“We’re just encouraging people to go on [the website] and to check it out,” Sadoff said.
Sadoff acknowledged that health care reform has been a contentious issue. But she said the insurance registration process – as well as efforts to expand Medicaid services to low-income Americans – will ultimately reduce the costs of uncompensated care.
She noted that Moab Regional Hospital has provided $10.2 million in such care to the community in the last three years alone.
“If we can get people registered and make sure that they have access to primary care, that’s a better way to go,” she said.
Moab Regional Hospital is currently hosting a certified application counselor each Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Anyone who would like to schedule an appointment with the counselor is encouraged to call the hospital in advance at 435-719-3520.
Meanwhile, Kulander and his wife Jil are now available at the Moab Free Health Clinic from 9 a.m. to noon on Thursdays; to make an appointment with either of them, call 435-259-1113.
People who plan on meeting with an application counselor should bring in copies of their most recent tax returns, along with their Social Security or legal immigrant documentation numbers and their spouse’s insurance information, if applicable.