At last week’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) information session held in the Princeton Public Library’s Community Room, local residents were offered free advice on choosing and signing up for medical coverage.
People turned out to ask questions about using the Health Insurance Marketplace at HealthCare.gov and to seek advice on comparing plans, alternatives to the government site, the pros and cons of using an insurance agent, and whether they should apply by phone or on paper.
The event was hosted by the Princeton Public Library in conjunction with Princeton Human Services, the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, and Enroll America, the education and outreach non-profit that launched a national Get Covered America campaign last year to raise public awareness of new health insurance options.
In the brief press conference that followed, Mayor Liz Lempert urged all Princeton residents to take advantage of the ACA and any assistance that they may be eligible for. According to a mayoral public service announcement in support of President Obama’s health care initiative, available on the municipal website princetonnj.gov, “82 percent of New Jerseyians who have enrolled in the federal marketplace have received federal help.”
During the four hour session, about 55 people tapped into the expertise of 10 certified application counselors as well as three representatives of New Jersey insurance providers. Some were looking for answers to specific questions, others were hoping for general information to get them started. Several were ready to enroll right on the spot. “The session helped a lot of people know what they need to do by when and how to get it done,” said Event and Library Associate Shelly Hawk.
The three HMO companies offering plans on the New Jersey exchange are AmeriHealth New Jersey, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and Health Republic Insurance of New Jersey.
AmeriHealth New Jersey describes itself as “the only health insurer focused solely on the state of New Jersey.” Its website (www.amerihealth.com) offers a variety of health plans for individuals as well as small- or mid-sized business, and municipalities. For more information on its ACA compliant plans, in the bronze, silver, gold and platinum categories, call (888) 879-5331.
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (BCBSNJ) is transitioning its members to new ACA compliant health plans and has information on its website (www.horizonblue.com) or by phone: (800) 224-1234.
Health Republic Insurance of New Jersey (HRINJ) is a new non-profit, consumer operated and oriented plan that was established in response to the Affordable Care Act. It describes itself as a co-op with no private shareholders, “so all of our profits go toward ensuring that the individuals and small businesses we serve get the healthcare they need.” It offers plans in the categories: Core, Solid, Prime, and Catastrophic through its website newjersey.healthrepublic.us and can be contacted by phone: (888) 990-5706, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The library was thrilled to be the central location for this community collaboration spearheaded by Princeton Human Services,” said Ms. Hawk. “Ensuring the public has access to resources concerning the ACA is a top priority for the library and this event was a follow up to a more general introduction to the ACA with Human Services and the Medical Center that was hosted in November.”
“Enroll America provided knowledgeable and friendly trained facilitators who answered questions and helped people enroll onsite, as did the University Medical Center, which continues to do so daily at their site,” said Ms. Hawk.
In March 2010, President Barack Obama’s comprehensive healthcare reform, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), was signed into law.
ACA requires all citizens to have medical insurance and metes out a penalty for those who do not comply. The penalty for not having coverage in 2014 is $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. In 2015, the penalty rises to $325 or 2 percent of income, whichever is greater: and in 2016 it will be $698 or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater. The deadline for people to sign up for health coverage for this year is March 31.
For those on a low income whose employer does not offer health benefits, there is a tax credit that can be applied to the monthly cost of insurance up front or taken into account when taxes are filed at the end of the year. To find out if you are eligible for a subsidy, visit: healthcare.gov. If you are eligible, you must apply for coverage through this website.
All plans offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace must include a core set of essential health benefits and fit into one of four tiers: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. according to monthly premium cost and percentage of medical coverage.
Those who do not qualify for a subsidy may still apply through healthcare.gov, apply directly to a healthcare provider, or go through an insurance agent.
Although there are some exceptions, and subsidies vary according to income and number in a household, some general rules apply. If you are the only person in your household and your yearly income is between $11,490 and $45,960, you may qualify for lower premiums on a Marketplace insurance plan. If your yearly income is between $11,490 and $28,725, you may qualify for lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs for Marketplace insurance.
UMCPP’s Carolyn Schindewolf was one of several professionals available to offer advice. She described the list of items to have available during an enrollment session with a counselor: Social Security Numbers or document numbers for legal immigrants; employer and income information for every member of the household who will need coverage (pay stubs or W-2 forms); and policy numbers of any current health insurance plans covering members of the household.
UMCCP is an official Certified Application Counselor organization and will continue to offer advice through March 31, the end of the enrollment period. It provides enrollment assistance at a number of locations. For a list of times and locations, see princetonhcs.org/calendar.
For more information, visit: GetCoveredAmerica.org, HealthCare.gov, or call (800) 318-2596.
For information sessions organized by UMCCP, visit: princetonhcs.org/calendar, or call (888) 897-8979 to schedule an appointment with a counselor. Walk-ins are also welcome and will be seen on a first come, first-served basis, when counselors are available.
A Certified Application Counselor from Princeton HealthCare System’s Community Education and Outreach Program will provide an overview of New Jersey’s health insurance marketplace; how it works; who qualifies; how to enroll; and more on Wednesday, March 12, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Hickory Corner Library, 138 Hickory Corner Road, East Windsor; and on Thursday, March 13, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Hamilton Area YMCA John K Rafferty Branch, 1315 Whitehorse-Mercerville Road, Hamilton; and on Monday, March 17, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the West Windsor Library, 333 North Post Road, Princeton Junction; call (609) 275-8901 to register.