State Rep. Al Williams sponsored a town-hall meeting Monday on the Affordable Care Act at the courthouse in Hinesville. The gathering was designed to inform residents about the new health-care law and to equip consumers with the knowledge they need to apply for insurance on the health-care exchanges.
“Our purpose here is not to debate the law,” Williams said. “We’re here because it is the law of the land.”
The federal government’s health-insurance marketplace opened Oct. 1. Americans who buy insurance from the marketplace can expect coverage to begin Jan. 1. The Obama administration has said nearly 500,000 insurance applications already have been filed through the marketplace system, according to news reports.
Since Georgia “opted out” of producing its own state-run online insurance marketplace, state residents must use the federal website, Williams explained.
David Morris and Cecile McKnight with the Diversity Clinic in Hinesville have been certified as health-care navigators. They are trained to help residents select a health-care plan that suits their health and budgetary needs, Morris said.
“We essentially represent the federal government,” he said. “We are here to facilitate the enrollment process.”
Martha Weston with the University of Georgia extension service joined Morris and Liberty Tax Service office manager Yvonne Nelson on the panel at the town-hall meeting. Weston also has been trained as a health navigator and is waiting to receive her insurance license from the state. She works out of Liberty County’s extension office and covers eight counties.
Morris admits the application process has been slowed due to the federal site’s “glitches,” but people still can enroll in person, over the phone or by filling out and mailing paper applications, he said.
Williams said conservatives have not helped speed up the process; rather, they have thrown obstacles in the way because, in his opinion, they want the president’s signature policy to fail. He specifically called out Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, who has voiced opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Williams said Hudgens has unnecessarily burdened health navigators by requiring them to pass the same test insurance agents must take to sell insurance, thus preventing some navigators from assisting people even though the marketplace opened three weeks ago. This additional state requirement is stricter than what is mandated by the new health-care law, he said.
Americans seeking to buy health insurance through the government’s marketplace have a March 31, 2014, deadline to enroll before penalties kick in, said accountant Samuel Brown, who owns Brown’s Tax and Accounting in Midway.
Brown and Nelson each briefed residents on what penalties would be levied if they fail to buy health insurance. Nelson said the IRS will collect penalties via tax returns.
Starting in 2014, the penalty is $95 for an individual or 1 percent of their taxable income, whichever is greater, Nelson said. A family of four would pay a $285 penalty, or 1 percent of their taxable income, whichever is greater, she said.
The penalty amounts go up each year, Nelson said. In 2015, the penalty for an individual is $325 or 2 percent of their taxable income, whichever is greater, she said. The penalty for a family of four rises to $975, Nelson said.
Nelson said consumers would be liable for penalties based on each person they claim as a personal deduction. However, the penalty cannot exceed the cost of a marketplace bronze plan, she said.
Nelson said those people who already have health insurance, like through an employer or those on Medicare or Medicaid are exempt from buying a plan through the marketplace.
Peach State, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Alliant will offer individual insurance policies through the federal marketplace in Georgia, according to healthinsurance.org.
Morris said there are five rate categories for marketplace insurance plans: bronze, silver, gold, platinum and catastrophic. There are numerous factors taken into account when helping people select a plan, including the person’s age and other circumstances, he said.
Under the new health-care law, essential health benefits — such as outpatient visits, emergency services, well-mother and baby visits, mental-health services, prescription drugs, laboratory tests, preventative services, including blood-pressure and breast-cancer screenings, and pediatric services, including dental and vision care — must be offered, according to Morris.
“There’s no cost for any of the services we (navigators) provide,” he said.
For enrollment assistance, go to healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 or TTY: 1-855-889-4325. Liberty County residents also can contact Morris or McKnight at 912-877-2227 or Weston at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.