On Oct. 1, millions of uninsured Americans — 716,000 in Colorado — suddenly got a new way to buy health insurance. They can now shop in the state insurance exchanges.
Many of them had been shut out of the insurance market because they have pre-existing health conditions. In January it will be illegal for insurers to turn away sick people.
It's expected that about 24 million people will find insurance coverage in the exchanges, and about 60 percent of them will be eligible for a subsidy to help them pay the premiums. For families with incomes hovering around the federal poverty level ($23,550 for a family of four; $11,490 for individuals) and somewhat above, subsidies will be large and might cover a good chunk of the premium. Families with higher incomes will get smaller subsidies and will have to pay most of the premium themselves. That could be a big chunk of the family budget if they choose a policy with good coverage.
Customers in the exchanges will mostly be those who have no coverage and those who now buy it in what's called the individual market. If you have employer coverage, Medicare, Medicaid, or coverage from the military or the Indian Health Service, forget the exchanges. The law assumes you already have health coverage.
People who have coverage they've already bought in the individual market can also check out the exchange to see if they can get a better deal. That includes freelancers, retirees not yet old enough to get Medicare, people between jobs and families of workers whose employers provide insurance for employees but not for their spouses or kids.
That brings up the matter of where to go for help. One place to start is Connect for Health Colorado, 855-752-6749 or connectforhealthco.com. Connect for Health Colorado is the only place where Coloradans can access new financial assistance, based on income, to reduce the cost of health insurance.
You can also look for a navigator, a real live person trained to help people enroll in a policy. Maria Forster is one of those navigators. She will host an informational session at the Paonia Library Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 6 p.m.
Once you find your way to a list of insurance offerings either on a website or with a navigator's help, the task becomes tricky. Choosing health insurance is never easy, whether you're buying inside or outside an exchange.
You don't have to rush into anything right now. Take your time and study the options. Coverage doesn't begin until January (if you sign up by Dec. 15), and open enrollment doesn't end until March 31. If you buy a cheap policy that doesn't cover your needs when you're sick, you may be stuck with it for months until the next open enrollment.
Editor's note: The Rural Health News Service is funded by a grant from The Commonwealth Fund and distributed through the Nebraska Press Association Foundation, the Colorado Press Association and the South Dakota Newspaper Association.blog comments powered by Disqus