By Roberta Riley
Chances are we all know dozens of friends, neighbors, and family members who lack health insurance.
Maybe it’s the nicest person you know— the neighbor you trust with your extra house key, the person who cuts your hair, or the farmer who sells delicious berries at your local market. Maybe it’s your friend, who cares for her family while juggling a full load of other responsibilities. Maybe it’s your son, who works hard, but can’t see a doctor for fear the bills will bankrupt him.
Or maybe you are one of the million plus Washington residents who lack health insurance—that’s 1 in 7 Washingtonians. Maybe you are stuck in the middle: too young for Medicare, but retired or in a job that doesn’t offer health benefits.
The good news: Starting in October, the uninsured can apply for new, affordable coverage options. People who currently have insurance can also explore the new options, but may not always be eligible.
The bad news: Few Washingtonians know about the good news. Years of attacks against the Affordable Care Act (sometimes called “Obamacare”), left many people with the mistaken impression that health reform failed—but the truth is the best parts of the new law are just about to take effect.
Who do you know who needs health insurance?
This fall is the time to reach out and encourage your friends, neighbors, and family members to explore their new options.
Here are the key things every Washingtonian needs to know:
- If you have Medicare, your coverage will only change for the better. Though you won’t be eligible for the new coverage options, Medicare will still be there for you—with some positive changes, like more affordable prescription drugs in the “doughnut hole” and free annual exams.
- You will be able to find the plan that fits your budget. Premium rates in Washington are actually expected to decrease with the new coverage options. Plus, you might be able to get financial help to pay for insurance, depending on how much money you make. Even a family of four making as much as $94,200 could qualify for help with costs.
- The insurance plan you choose will be there to cover the care you need. All insurance plans will have to cover the basic care you need, including doctor visits, hospital stays, emergency room visits, mental health care, and prescription drugs. Plans will have to cover many preventive services, like mammograms and annual women’s exams, with no co-pay from you.
- You will be able to get help choosing a plan. You can get help online, over the phone, and in person to find the plan that is best for you and find out whether you can get financial help to pay for it.
- Don’t delay! Open enrollment starts October 1st. For some options, open enrollment ends March 31st.
How You Can Apply:
- Starting in October, you can apply for the new coverage options through the Healthplanfinder, a state-approved website and call center that will help you understand and compare your new options.
- You can get in-person help from an organization in your community who is trained to help you.
- You can get help in your language or disability accommodations for free.
When You Can Apply:
September 3, 2013 – Call Center Opens: Call 1-855-WAFINDER (855-923-4633) if you have questions about your new coverage options (but you can’t start applying until October).
- October 1, 2013 – First Day to Apply
- You can complete an application online at www.healthplanfinder.org or by calling the call center. You can also use the website and call center to find an in-person assister in your community, who can walk you through your new options.
- March 31, 2013 – Last Day to Apply for some options (until next year). Other options will still accept enrollment after this.
Roberta Riley is Communications Consultant at Northwest Health Law Advocates and a Member of PSARA.