An Abbreviated Guide to the Healthcare Exchanges

The online health care marketplaces have been up and (mostly) running for nearly a month, but a lack of information in many states is leaving consumers confused about their responsibilities and the coverage available to them. Below is some basic information to help you navigate the health care exchanges, and links to more information.

Do I have to use the exchange?

Consumers who do not receive health coverage through their employer or their spouse’s employer may be required to purchase insurance on the marketplace. In addition, if employer coverage does not meet the ACA’s requirements or costs more than 9.5 percent of the consumer’s income then the consumer may purchase more affordable insurance on the exchange.

There are exemptions. You are not required to purchase insurance if you:

· Would qualify for Medicaid under the expanded income limits, whether or not your state expanded coverage;

· Are not required to file a tax return;

· Receive insurance through your employer, your spouse’s employer, or other government-provided coverage (including VA benefits)

If you are a sole proprietor with no employees, you are considered an individual and are required to purchase insurance on the exchange unless you meet one of the exemption criteria. If you have fewer than 50 employees, you can purchase coverage for your company on the Small Business Health Options (SHOP) Marketplace and may qualify for tax incentives to do so.

What coverage can I purchase?

Open enrollment continues through March 2014, and plans will take effect beginning January 1, 2014. The health plans available on the marketplaces fall into one of five categories:

· Catastrophic – only available to consumers under 30 who are looking for low-cost disaster coverage

· Bronze – the lowest level of comprehensive coverage available; plans will pay up to 60 percent of costs

· Silver – “standard” coverage, with plans paying up to 70 percent of costs

· Gold – higher-level coverage, paying up to 80 percent of costs

· Platinum – the best coverage available, paying up to 90 percent of costs

As you move up through the plan levels, premiums increase but deductibles and out-of-pocket costs decrease. In addition, higher-level plans feature wider provider networks and better pharmaceutical coverage. Every plan level offers minimum essential coverage as required by the ACA.

Plans on the marketplace are required to cover at least the ten defined essential health benefits.

How do I know what’s covered?

Each exchange is required to provide a summary of included benefits, coverage, and applicable co-pays for services and medications at the generic, brand name, and specialty levels. The plans must also provide a list of in-network providers, as some providers may not accept all plans available on the marketplace.

What if I can’t afford coverage?

There are tax credits and subsidies available to a portion of the population to make health care affordable. For other low-income individuals and families, expanded Medicaid coverage will provide a free healthcare option. Consumers who are not already insured or exempt will fall into one of four categories:

· Consumers who are eligible for Medicaid benefits, whether or not the program has been expanded in your state. If it has, you will be able to enroll; if it has not, as mentioned above, you are exempt from the individual mandate.

· Consumers who are ineligible for Medicaid but earn below 100 percent of the poverty level. Unfortunately, these consumers are ineligible for the tax credit and must purchase health care at the full cost.

· Consumers who are eligible for tax credits to reduce premiums, earning between 100 and 400 percent of the poverty level. These consumers should be aware when shopping for insurance that tax credits are calculated based on the second least expensive silver plan available.

About half of the consumers who fall into this category will also be eligible for cost-sharing reductions to help with deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. The maximum threshold for these benefits is 250 percent of the poverty level.

· Consumers who earn above 400 of the poverty level will be required to purchase insurance without assistance.

Find out if you qualify for a subsidy using Kaiser’s interactive calculator.

How does a subsidy work?

Refundable tax credits will be immediately available to eligible consumers, who can use some or all of the money to pay for premiums.

If you are self-employed or have fluctuating income, it may be wise to reserve part of your tax credit in the beginning or to overestimate your income to compensate. If you earn more than you estimated you may be required to pay back some or all of the tax credit at filing time, though you may qualify for a higher subsidy if you earn less than you projected. This is also a great reason to report changes in employment, income, or family size to the health exchange as soon as they occur.

Where do I begin?

To explore your state’s marketplace and enroll in healthcare coverage, visit www.healthcare.gov – this is the federal portal and the safest way to avoid scammers.

If poor cash flow will make it difficult for you to purchase health care, PRN Funding’s healthcare factoring programs can give you immediate access to the cash you need. Get started today to beat enrollment deadlines and secure peace of mind.

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