South Carolinians who don’t have health insurance can start signing up for it under the federal Affordable Care Act starting October 1, and there are trained navigators across the state ready to help them.
You can find one near you by going to https://localhelp.healthcare.gov/ and entering your zip code, or your city and state.
Navigators have had at least 20 hours of training. Tim Liszewski, Lead Navigator for the South Carolina Progressive Network, says, "Come to us if you need the help. If you have questions, sometimes it's better to talk one-on-one to a person rather than rely on your understanding of what you read on the Internet. And that's why we're here to help."
The first thing you need to know is who the health insurance that’s being offered under the Affordable Care Act is, and is not, intended for. If you already have health insurance through your job or through some other government program, like Medicare or Medicaid, you don’t need to sign up for coverage. It’s for people who don’t have health insurance now.
If you fall into that category, the first step is to go www.healthcare.gov , the official website. You can go through the process step-by-step on your own, or find a navigator to help.
Liszewski says the most common question he gets is, how much will coverage cost? “And what I tell people is it depends on how much money your family has coming in, and it depends on what your needs are. The health plans are available there. You look for what you need from a health plan and you make the choices," he says.
There are three levels of plans being offered in South Carolina: bronze, silver, and gold. Bronze is the least expensive but offers less coverage, silver offers more and covers more, and then gold offers the most and is most expensive.
There will be subsidies available to help some individuals and families pay for their coverage. Wanda Pearson, project director for The Cooperative Ministry, one of the groups providing navigators in South Carolina, says people who make between $11,500 and $47,000 a year generally will qualify for a subsidy.
“The amount really depends on which level of plan you choose,” she says. “In order to qualify for any subsidy, though, you do have to choose a plan at at least the silver level.”
Even though you can start signing up for coverage on October 1, you don’t have to sign up right away.
"No, and quite honestly we're really hoping that they don't,” Pearson says. She says if everyone goes to the website on the first day, it could slow down the system or cause problems.
“The open enrollment period actually goes from 1 October, 2013 to 31 March, 2014. Now the advantage to signing up in 2013 is that if you make your first premium payment by December 15th, then you will have coverage the first of January. If you make your first premium payment after the December 15th, say the 16th through the 31st, then your coverage won't be effective until the 1st of February," she says.
If you want to sign up without going through the Internet, you can call toll-free 1-800-318-2596.
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