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Column: Health insurance deadline is just around the corner

Buddy Robinson

Don’t have any health insurance? Now is the time to take advantage of the new coverage available to you from the federal health care reform known as the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”

We’ve all heard the scary, negative misinformation about “Obama-care.” However, the coverage that people can get from the new law is actually a big improvement for many. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you can finally get accepted onto insurance for the first time. No one need worry anymore about being kicked off of insurance, if you develop an expensive sickness. Coverage is more affordable than before, thanks to new federal subsidies.

March 31 is the deadline to be able to sign up for health coverage. You can sign up with Minnesota’s health insurance exchange, known as MNsure. (You know, the one with the Paul Bunyan ads.) You could instead buy a policy your own, or through a broker. The deadline is for everyone who doesn’t have any coverage.

There are different kinds of coverage you can get, depending on your income. The important dividing line is 200 percent of poverty. The 200 percent of poverty amount equals to income of $23,340/yr ($1,945/mo) for a single person; $31,460/yr ($2,622/mo) for a couple; $39,580/yr ($3,298/mo) for a family of three, $47,700/yr ($3,975/mo) for a family of four, and so on.

If your income is below these amounts, then you can apply for one of Minnesota’s public programs: Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare.

Medical Assistance, which is for people with the lowest incomes, has no premiums. MinnesotaCare has small premiums. For these public programs, you can sign up anytime during the year, but you still need to sign up by March 31, or you could get a financial penalty. The eligibility for Medical Assistance is higher now than what it was last year. So, if you applied before and were rejected, you might get accepted this time around.

If your income is above the amounts stated above, then you should apply for an insurance policy. Your best deals are the policies you can get on the MNsure exchange. These policies can be partly paid for by new federal subsidies for many people.

The smaller your income, the more financial help you will get. If you miss the March 31 deadline, then you’ll have to wait until the end of this year to sign up for a policy on MNsure — so don’t miss the deadline!

Everyone has to sign up by March 31, unless financial hardship prevents you from finding affordable coverage. People who can afford to sign up but don’t will be assessed a penalty in 2015. The penalty is $95 per adult and up to $285 per family, or up to 1 percent of your income, whichever is greater.

For those with internet access, you can apply for coverage, pick an option and sign up, all online at mnsure.org. But you don’t have to do this by yourself. If you want help, whether you can go online or not, there is great assistance available here in Duluth.

Several agencies, working together as the insureDULUTH coalition, have trained helpers called “Navigators” standing by to assist you every step of the way.

The easiest way to find a Navigator is to call the United Way information number. Just dial 211 from a landline phone or (800) 543-7709 from a mobile phone and say that you want to sign up for health coverage. They will connect you with a Navigator to give you individual assistance, at no cost to you.

The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect. It can be improved on, but nobody should pass up on the help they can get from it, right now.

March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance

Buddy Robinson is the staff director of Minnesota Citizens Federation Northeast. Learn more at citizensfed.org.

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