The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 18, 2013

Obamacare forum draws a crowd

Questions aplenty on Affordable Health Care Act

By Tim Krohn tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — Interest in and questions about the massive Obamacare overhaul of the nation’s health insurance program were apparent Thursday night as about 250 people packed a conference center in North Mankato.

Local legislators Kathy Sheran, Kathy Brynaert and Clark Johnson hosted the town hall meeting at South Central College, reading an array of questions from audience members that were answered succinctly by MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov.

MNsure is the state health insurance exchange that will administer the Affordable Care Act that requires all people to have insurance or pay a penalty, with open enrollment in the insurance program starting Oct. 1.

Here are some of the questions and answers covered at the forum:

n What if I have health insurance coverage through my employer?

“People with coverage from larger employers or through Medicare are not affected,” Todd-Malmlov said. “If you are satisfied with what your employer is giving you, stick with it.”

Exceptions would be if a person is paying more than 9.5 percent of his or her personal income toward employer-sponsored insurance. Then, checking for MNsure insurance would make sense as tax credits to pay for coverage would be available.

n What about people on Medical Assistance?

They will automatically be transferred to MNsure.

n What if I have VA medical coverage?

Nothing will change for you.

n People who don’t buy insurance will be penalized. How much?

At first, an individual will pay just $95 or 1 percent of their income, which ever is greater, annually as a penalty for not carrying insurance. But the penalty rises, hitting $695 or 2.5 percent of income in 2016.

n Why not just not have insurance and then apply for MNsure if you get sick?

“If you get sick, you cannot just sign up,” Todd-Malmlov told the crowd. Open enrollment for MNsure will only be from October to December of each year.

n Obamacare removes pre-existing medical conditions as a barrier to get insurance. Will private insurance companies that aren’t a part of MNsure have to follow the same rules?

“Yes.”

n How many uninsured Minnesotans will be covered and how many will remain uncovered by health insurance?

At full implementation, about 200,000 uninsured Minnesotans will gain insurance. Some 350,000 will choose to not be insured.

n There are federal tax credits to help pay for health insurance for lower-income individuals or households. How does it work?

The credits are based on household income. Married couples must file taxes jointly to be eligible. Grown children up to age 26 can be covered under their parents’ insurance. If the child files taxes separately, potential tax credits are based on their income; if the parents claim the child on taxes, the potential tax credit is based on the parents’ income.

When deciding whether someone qualifies for tax credits, the IRS looks at only income, not assets of the person or family seeking credits.

■ How many private insurance companies are participating in MNsure coverage?

All of the big ones, including Blue Cross, UCare, Health Partners, PreferredOne and Medica. Those five companies currently cover 91 percent of all Minnesotans with health insurance.

■ Are there caps on out-of-pocket costs for people with insurance?

Yes. The deductible/co-pay is $6,300 annually for an individual and $12,600 for a family.

■ Are there different levels of coverage available?

Yes, it depends on what you want to pay for premiums. There are bronze, silver, gold and platinum levels of health insurance. The bronze level will cover 60 percent of your medical costs, with you paying the rest. The top tier will pay 90 percent of your medical costs.

■ Where do I get more information?

mnsure.org, mnsure.com or call 1-855-366-7873.