The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Business

March 12, 2014

Affordable Care Act deadline is March 31

NEOSHO, Mo. — Danny and Brenda Newman, of Carl Junction, had a purpose for being at Tuesday night’s informational session about the Affordable Care Act, presented by University of Missouri Extension.

They have expensive COBRA health insurance after Danny Newman left his job. They were seeking information about finding something more affordable through the Missouri health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

“We’re going to have to do it soon,” Brenda Newman said, referring to a March 31 deadline.

That is the date by which those without health insurance must sign up to avoid receiving a penalty. It also is the last chance to sign up until the next enrollment period, which starts in November, said presenter Janet LaFon, family financial education specialist with University of Missouri Extension. The session was staged at Crowder College in Neosho.

This year, the penalty is the highest of 1 percent of household income or $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, up to $285 per family. Next year, the penalty rises to the highest of 2 percent of income or $325 per adult and $162.50 per child, up to $975 per family. The penalty increases again in 2016.

LaFon said people can enroll in a plan after March 31 if there is a change in their situation such as losing a job or moving to another state.

In introducing the session, LaFon said it was meant to provide factual information without involving politics.

“We are just here to provide you with education and resources to help you make informed decisions,” she said.

She also said it has been difficult to keep track of some of the changes that have been made since the health care exchanges started.

“This has been a moving target as we have been trying to share information about it,” LaFon said.

MARKETPLACE

The federal government is running the Missouri exchange, called the Missouri Health Insurance Marketplace, because the state opted not to run its own exchange. Two health insurance companies, Coventry and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, are on the Missouri exchange, offering 19 plans.

The average premium costs for bronze level plans for individuals range from $140 to $218 per month, before tax credits. For silver plans, the average premium range for individuals is $186 to $270 per month. For gold plans, the range is $211 to $335 per month. There aren’t any platinum plans offered in Missouri now.

LaFon said a bronze plan pays for 60 percent of health care bills, with the remaining 40 percent coming from the patient. Silver plans covers 70 percent of health care bills, and gold plans pay 80 percent of the costs.

She said premium tax credits can reduce the premium costs. For example, someone paying a $300 monthly premium may qualify for a $200 tax credit based on income, reducing the monthly premium to $100 a month. People can receive the tax credit now or receive it when they file their 2014 income taxes.

LaFon said there also are cost-sharing discounts for those who qualify, again based on income. She said those reduce the out-of-pocket cost for patients.

Those who may benefit from enrolling include part-time and self-employed workers, independent contractors, seasonal employees, and employees of small businesses that don’t offer health insurance. Others include would-be retirees who are keeping a job just to keep their health insurance.

The benefits can include preventing a financial crisis based on medical bills, LaFon said.

“A lot of bankruptcies are the result of a catastrophic health situation,” she said.

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