Cumberland Times-News

October 28, 2013

Local situation of Affordable Care Act discussed

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Thousands of uninsured residents in the area are eligible for health insurance tax credits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Local officials are focusing on getting the word out to get people to sign up for the credits and health insurance.

About 14,000 county residents will qualify for some type of benefit under the program, said Robert Croft of the Allegany County Health Department. Allegany County has 8,675 uninsured residents, Croft said. Those eligible represent a wide range of income levels. For example, households of four people will be eligible starting at $32,299 of income per year and will remain eligible for at least some benefits up to earnings of $94,200 per year, according to information provided by Croft.

Healthy Howard, Inc., is the official source of information for the program in the Western Region of the state, Croft said. Healthy Howard has created a program and Web site called “The Door to HealthCare,” which provides information and allows for enrollment into the program.

The ACA makes many changess to existing health care law. one of the biggest changes is, that beginning in 2014, people cannot be denied coverage because of a pre-existing conditions and cannot be dropped from coverage if they develop a serious illness. Woman also pay, on average, 25-50 percent more for health coverage. Croft said the act is designed to end that disparity.

There are four levels of insurance offered through the ACA plan in maryland, labeled bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Bronze plans have the lowest premiums and covers 60 percent of medical costs. The platinum plans will have th highest premiums and cover 90 percent of costs, Croft said.

Signing up for health coverage is a requirement of the act, there are some exceptions for religious reasons and financial hardship. Those not eligible for an exemption face a penalty in 2014 for failure to obtain health insurance. In 2014, the penalty is the greater of $95 per adult and $47.50 per child under age 18, with a maximum of $285 per family or 1 percent of income over the tax-filing threshold for the family or individual, according to a handout provided by Croft. Any business with more than 50 employees which does not offer a health care plan will also have to pay a penalty.

The insurance options available will make most preventative services free, Croft said. Information about the program has been provided to nearly every business in Cumberland and Frostburg and at most offices of medical providers, Croft said and rotating visits are planned for area libraries to get the information out.

Those with questions about the ACA can call the Allegany County Health Department and speak to program “assisters” based at the department. Appointments can be scheduled at the Web site listed below. Assisters are also based at Allegany Health Right.

Croft spoke during an Oct. 22 meeting of the Allegany County Board of Health. Allegany County Commissioners and Dr. Sue Raver, the county health officer, make up the county Board of Health. Other health department officials were also at the meeting.

Information on ACA for Western Maryland residents can be found at: http://www.doortohealthcare.org/. Individuals can also call the health department at 301-759-5098 for assistance.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.