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Health coverage: how lucky do you feel?

You might have heard the deadline was Jan. 31 to sign up for health coverage if you don't already have it. That is half-true; some people won't be able to sign up for coverage for the rest of the year, now that the deadline has passed. However, others still can. Are you in luck or out of it?

The "out-of-luckers" are those who, except for some special cases, have monthly gross incomes above these amounts: $1,980 for a single person, $2,670 for a couple, $3,360 for a family of three and on up. They're not allowed to buy an insurance policy for the rest of 2016. They have to wait until fall to sign up for coverage for 2017.

What are the exceptions? They include changes in marital status, size of the family, loss of employer health coverage (such as losing or leaving a job), a change in your employer health coverage, or you moved in or out of this part of the state. If one of these changed for you, then you're in luck; you can sign up. Depending on your income, you may be able to get a subsidy to greatly reduce the cost of your insurance premiums.

The rest of the "in-luckers" are everyone whose monthly income is below the amounts stated above. They can likely qualify for the state's MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance programs. They can apply for these anytime during the year. Medical Assistance is for people with the lowest incomes, a little more than half of the stated amounts, and there's no premium for that coverage. For those above that, but below the upper limit, they can get MinnesotaCare. On that program, you pay small premiums based on your income.

One "in-lucker" is Daniel. He bartends and manages at a restaurant in town. His employer stopped offering him insurance, so he went on COBRA to keep himself covered. He earns $20,000 a year and was paying $400/month for his COBRA coverage, much more than he could afford. Then he found out he could get MinnesotaCare. Now he is covered for about only $60 per month.

If you're one of the lucky ones who can sign up for coverage, you should. People sign up for all of the coverages mentioned above through MNsure, the state's health exchange. It's not the easiest thing in the world to do, but here's good news: you can get free, personalized assistance to help you figure out what you can get and how to sign up.

The assistance is from local nonprofit agencies in the InsureDuluth Coalition. They have special "navigator" staff who can guide you through the entire process. To find a navigator in Duluth and make an appointment, call the United Way information number at 211 (if you're calling from a landline) or 1-800-543-7709 (mobile). You also have the option of going it alone on the MNsure website.

Another lucky guy is Rick. He was covered by his employer ... until he lost his job. Rick needs health coverage because he has a medical condition with seizure-like qualities. His change in circumstance —losing his job — meant he was eligible for Medical Assistance. He enrolled with the help of a navigator and none too soon, since he was already back in the hospital.

You can meet navigators in person and learn more at Northland Community Wellness Day on April 9 at the University of Minnesota Duluth's Romano Gym.

Many people who are on Medicare wonder if these MNsure programs apply to them. They do not. But if you have Medicare and are below the income amounts listed above, you can get help from the Citizens Federation at (218) 727-0207. If your income is higher, call the Senior Linkage Line at (800) 333-2433.

Finally, I hope you're not one of the few who don't want any coverage at all, because they think they're so lucky that they'll never get into an accident or contract a disease. They're very surprised when their luck runs out.

Buddy Robinson is the staff director of the Minnesota Citizens Federation – Northeast.