Cumberland Times-News

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April 16, 2013

New health tax credits to be a ‘game-changer’

CUMBERLAND — Thousands of people in Allegany and Garrett County will be eligible for tax credits to help them purchase health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

The program will begin open enrollment in October. The tax credits, which work like a premium subsidy, will begin in January 2014, said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, during a national conference call Tuesday.

“This is a game-changer, which will allow millions of uninsured people and families to obtain health care coverage,” said Pollack.

Those eligible for the tax credit won’t need to file a tax return to get reimbursed.

Once an individual chooses a policy, the credit will be calculated against the monthly premium payment and reduce the premium payment based on a sliding scale.

“Those who need help the most will get the most help,” said Pollack.

The federal government will pay the money directly to the insurance company.

In Allegany and Garrett counties, as many as 9,810 people will be able to take advantage of the tax credit, according to a study by Families USA called “Help is at Hand.”

Statewide, about 360,000 Marylanders will be eligible for the credits, Families USA said. Details of the application process aren’t available yet.

The credits are available for people who make up to four times the federal poverty limit.

“This reaches deeply into the middle class and moderate-income families,” Pollack said.

Important to note is that with some exceptions, the program is not available to those insured through their employer and for seniors who purchase supplemental Medicare insurance.

The reason for that is that most employers subsidize their employees’ rates and the federal government does not tax employers’ contributions, which technically are a form of income.

The program is available to people who already purchase insurance on their own if they meet the income guidelines, and those who are uninsured.

Pollack admitted implementation of the plan wouldn’t be completely smooth going.

“I don’t know of any new program that doesn’t have some glitches,” Pollack said. Critics have said the federal health care reform will drive up all health costs, and cause further affordability problems even for those with insurance.

Some individuals making up to $46,000 will be eligible for at least some tax credits.

A family of four, earning between $47,100 and $94,200, would also be eligible, even though they are making between 200 to 400 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Families USA estimates that 89 percent of Marylanders eligible for the tax credits will be employed.

In 2011, about 15 percent of Allegany County’s population under age 65 was uninsured and 22 percent of Garrett County’s population was uninsured, according to a Community Health Needs Assessment.

Maryland plans to set up its own health care exchange, which will have tiers of coverage plans available.

Other states are opting to let the federal government run their programs.

Families USA “is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the achievement of high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans,” according to its website, which can be found at  http://www.familiesusa.org/.

For more information on Maryland’s health care exchange, visit: http://www. marylandhealthconnection.gov/.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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