Health Coverage Guides assist citizens with insurance
December 6, 2016
For the past several years American citizens have been compelled by the federal healthcare legislation the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly known as Obamacare, to purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty.
Citizens can enroll to receive health insurance coverage during a specific period of time each year known as Open Enrollment, running from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31. Open Enrollment, and the requirement to obtain health insurance coverage, is a direct result of the ACA and the individual health insurance mandate contained within the legislation. Prior to the adoption of the ACA insurance companies had open enrollment periods but obtaining health insurance was not mandatory.
Because the process of obtaining health insurance through open enrollment can be complicated and confusing the local non-profit Grand County Rural Health Network (GCRHN) provides two Health Coverage Guides to assist citizens in the process. The Health Coverage Guides help folks navigate the complex maze of legal requirements, insurance offerings, financial hurdles and bureaucratic institutions that can complicate and potentially impede a citizen's ability to enroll.
For the GCRHN Kim Long and Julie Kestell serve as Health Coverage Guides. The pair have been in the thick of things since Nov. 1 and are working furiously as the end of the year approaches to help shepherd clients through the process.
"I am a Health Coverage Guide," stated Long. "I am a proponent of The Affordable Care Act, and have the privilege of assisting individuals and families seeking health coverage. My work also allows for navigating those less capable of helping themselves in obtaining benefits and services."
Long pointed out that as a Health Coverage Guide he does not sell any products or services to those who utilize the services of the GCRHN nor does he receive any form of commission or bonuses for his assistance to clients.
"We are like a caddy," Long said. "We try to keep you in the fairway and out of the bad areas."
The deadline to obtain coverage by the first of the year is Dec. 15, so if you haven't already worked out your health insurance you may not be able to get the process completed by the end of the year. Open Enrollment officially runs through Jan. 31 but according to Long anyone who attempts to begin the process in late Dec. or later will likely not be able to obtain coverage until Feb. or possibly even March.
Any citizen who does not have health insurance coverage for nine out of 12 months of the year must pay the tax penalty assessed for failing to obtain coverage, so if you only have coverage for six-months of the year you will pay both your premiums and the tax penalty.
Long pointed out that some folks opt to simply pay the tax penalty assessed through the ACA rather than purchasing health insurance.
"For some people in our region the fines are less expensive than the premiums," Long said. But he cautioned, "it is a gamble", he said. If a person were to get sick or injured they would need to pay the tax penalty as well as the full cost of their healthcare expenses.
If citizens do opt to not purchase health insurance and instead decide to pay the tax penalty know that the tax penalty is not assessed until you submit your taxes for the year you did not obtain coverage. The Open Enrollment period for 2016 is for health insurance coverage in 2017. If you do not obtain coverage your tax penalty would be assessed on the taxes you file in the spring of 2018 for income in 2017.
After this year's Presidential election changes are coming. Where and how those changes will play out is yet to be known but President-elect Trump has already made clear the ACA is on his agenda. With Republicans controlling both the US House and Senate and with congressional leaders declaring their intentions to repeal and replace the ACA it is hard to know what the future has in store.
But make no mistake folks the election of 2016 doesn't change the insurance requirements for 2017. According to Long, "Even if his (President-elect Trump) first act were to repeal and replace it (the ACA) it will not affect next year's requirement. By all indications 2017 will not be affected."
Any taxpaying Colorado resident is eligible to receive assistance from Health Coverage Guides through the GCRHN, though Long pointed out that some of the programs and forms of assistance the Health Coverage Guides can direct citizens to are only for residents of Grand County.
If you are looking for assistance in enrolling in health insurance you can contact Kim Long or Julie Kestell with the GCRHN at 970-531-4769 and 970-531-4511 respectively. You can also reach them at their email addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Additionally the GCRHN Guides make the rounds in Grand County, setting up shop in regional towns to make getting to an appointment easier for our local citizens. They are in Kremmling on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, Fraser on Wednesdays, Granby on Thursdays and some select Saturdays and in Grand Lake on select Thursdays. You will still need to call to set up an appointment with the Coverage Guides.