[dropcap]A[/dropcap] week. That’s how long some 250,000 Coloradans have to buy themselves some Presidentially-approved, federally-mandated healthy health insurance on the Internet. The relevant website is Connect for Health Colorado.
Those who don’t enroll by March 31 won’t be able to get coverage on the open market for the rest of 2014, barring a big life event such as job loss. The next public enrollment period begins November 15 and will run until February of 2015. If you miss next week’s deadline you’ll also be subject to the tax penalty otherwise known as the individual mandate — $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, or 1 percent of your income, whichever is greater.
“People should enroll so they can go to the doctor and get the care they need when they need it. That’s really the whole reason to have health insurance and why it’s important,” said Adam Fox at the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.
“It’s also hugely important to protect yourself from medical debt, which is the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in the country,” he added.
Fox said that over half of enrolling Coloradans qualify for subsidies, which so far average $275 per month. If an individual or family bring in less than 400% of the federal poverty line, they qualify for a subsidy.
Even if they don’t qualify for a subsidy, insurance may still be cheaper than previous private plans.
That was the case for Jason Lancaster, a 35 year-old Colorado business owner. Before the Affordable Care Act, Lancaster said he paid $670 a month for a Kaiser Permanente plan that covered him and his baby daughter — both healthy non-smokers. Lancaster’s wife, Sara, who had elective heart surgery in 2006 for what doctors called a minor heart condition, was considered uninsurable. She was able to get on CoverColorado, pre-Affordable Care Act coverage specifically for folks with pre-existing conditions, for which she paid $350 a month just for herself. All told, the family’s monthly insurance was just over $1,000 with two separate $5,000 deductibles between them.
Lancaster said he was one of the first people to hop on the exchange when it opened. Now the entire family pays $590 a month with a $3,500 deductible, without any financial assistance.
“When I talk to reporters about this what they find most interesting… is the fact that I’m a business owner and a registered Republican,” said Lancaster.
“I don’t know that what we have [in the ACA] is perfect, but there’s this perception that anyone who’s a business owner and conservative is against it. I’m not angry. I’m not calling for a repeal.”
The imperfect Affordable Care Act has, as laws go, made a lot of people angry. The Colorado Division of Insurance reported — at the request of Colorado Senate Republicans — that 337,241 policy cancellations have been sent to Coloradans due to the ACA as of February 21.
While that number exceeds the current figures for Coloradans who have signed up for health insurance (just over 250,000 including medicaid), Fox said it doesn’t necessarily equal 337,241 newly uninsured people and/or families.
“We know that about 92 percent of Coloradans who received cancelation notices were also offered the option to renew that plan, at least for the coming year. So it’s not an immediate cancelation in that sense,” he said.
This week or this fall, Coloradans whose policies were cancelled due to the ACA will also need to buy health insurance. For anyone looking for a snapshot of costs, the state exchange has put together a county by county map of unsubsidized average plan rates.
Fox estimates that a person who knows what kind of plan they want and has their medical information at hand could buy a policy through the exchange in about an hour (although the exchange is expecting a rush this week that may slow things down). The website comes with a built-in chat feature with enrollment guides who can answer questions. In-person guides are also available. Check out the handy map below to find them.
[Photo by Ralph]