By Larry Grard
Obamacare has been a game-changer for many Maine residents in their 50s and 60s, says an expert who helps people navigate the Affordable Care Act.
Rebekah Hayes, director of strategic planning and program development at York County Community Action Corp., oversees the navigator program that helps people connect to Obamacare. Hayes works one on one with people to find them health care through the Health Insurance Marketplace, or HealthCare.gov.
People looking for insurance came streaming into the system as soon as it became available last year, Hayes said.
“We’re seeing a lot of married couples – one old enough for Medicare and one not,” Hayes said. “The ones who do not have Medicare get into the Marketplace and purchase health insurance through the Marketplace. They can also apply for cost-sharing reductions and tax credits, depending on their incomes. People in their 50s and 60s jumped right in last year. Since September our navigators have hit the road running and have done public events at libraries and town halls.”
And, despite the well-publicized rocky start, for many, Obamacare has been a good option.
“They’re making out much better than they were before the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “It’s been downright life-changing for some people who were paying over $1,000 a month for health insurance. They cannot be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition.”
Hayes advises people with questions regarding the Affordable Care Act to contact community-action programs such as York County Community Action Corp. or regional health centers.
When should people become interested, or concerned?
“Now,” she said. “It’s not age-specific. If you don’t have insurance you’ll pay a penalty on your next tax return if you’re uninsured and don’t enroll. The thing with health insurance is, whether you’re old or young, things happen.”
Hayes said that open enrollment for 2013-2014 for Obamacare is through March 31, and that enrollment for the following year begins on Oct. 1.
Obamacare also can work for people working in small companies.
Tim Rooney, managing director of benefits for Chalmers Insurance Group of Scarborough, said that in Maine, if you work for a company with fewer than 50 employees and earn less than $46,700 a year, you qualify for a federal subsidy, or tax credit, to be insured under Obamacare.
“The baby boomers are the big winners, if their income is 400 percent or less of the federal poverty level,” Rooney said.
How do individuals prepare for entry into the world of Obamacare?
“That’s a different discussion,” Rooney said. “Individuals not affected may see the cost of insurance go up, rather dramatically. The plans they have to purchase are richer. For people who had bare-bones plans, their rates will go up.”
As of late, Rooney said, more young and healthy people have been enrolling in the various plans offered in the Obamacare exchanges. That includes the unemployed, people in business for themselves or people who work for small contractors.
“A lot of folks in the commercial fishing industry like lobstermen would now be able to afford health insurance due to the tax credits,” he said.
Larry Grard is a staff writer at Current Publishing.