Whether you are an opponent or proponent of the Affordable Care Act, it is rolling out; albeit at best, clumsily. For those of you starting to explore this new health insurance landscape, Northwest Justice Project and its legal services partners have a statewide taskforce of advocates looking at many aspects of the new law, including the programs it is supposed to provide, the benefits and burdens it is creating and what rights citizens may have vis-à-vis these new programs. One thing is clear, we are all on (and likely will remain for some time) a steep learning curve.
A few basics about the Affordable Care Act:
This federal law is called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It was passed in an attempt to change current health insurance practices by expanding how people access health insurance and is intended to lower health care costs. Whether or not this legislation succeeds at these goals is yet to be determined. Many say no way; others believe it will just take time. The legislation is intended to phase in over time, with much of it yet to take effect.
Some of the more publicized positive benefits of the Affordable Care Act are that it stops health insurance companies from refusing coverage based on pre-existing conditions and from capping medical expenses (per year or per the insured’s lifetime). The Affordable Care Act allows young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance to age 26 and closes the Medicare Part D “donut hole” by 2020, making prescription drugs more affordable.
One of the more controversial parts of the Affordable Care Act is what many refer to as the insurance mandate. Unless postponed, starting January 1, 2014, the law requires most people to have “minimum essential coverage.” In general, if you do not have this coverage, you will have an IRS penalty. For more information, go to: www.washingtonlawhelp.org/resource/health-care-reform-requirement-to-get....
If you do not already have health insurance, there are two main coverage options in Washington:
• Expanded Medicaid (“Washington Apple Health”) for some adults age 19-64. Medicaid is health insurance for lower-income people. If you qualify, this coverage is free.
• New state-approved “Qualified Health Plans” that may qualify for subsidies to make these plans more affordable.
While much of the press focuses on the failures of the federal roll out, what will affect Washingtonians more directly are the successes or failures of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which is how Washingtonians will access these services. At the time of writing this column (Monday, 12/09/2013), when I clicked on the link www.wahealthplanfinder.org, the site stated, “Washington Healthplanfinder is temporarily unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience. We’ll be back online Tuesday at 12:01 p.m. PST. We are steadfast in our commitment to a positive customer experience. Thank you for your patience.” Of note, I checked back at 12:01 on Tuesday, 12/10/2013, and the website was, in fact, back up.
So it goes. The lesson: patience is required.
In the interim, go to the main website http://wahbexchange.org/:
• Learn about the available program(s) http://wahbexchange.org/news-resources/webinar-series/;
• Calculate your costs http://wahbexchange.org/news-resources/calculate-your-costs/;
• Customer support http://wahbexchange.org/info-you/individuals-and-families/customer-suppo...
• Find out the status of the website repairs, etc.
We have already compiled resources to educate consumers on the Affordable Care Act. These resources are regularly updated by our advocate taskforce — just know we are along for the ride to help you maximize your navigation of these new programs.
To find out if you are eligible for Northwest Justice Project services:
For cases including youth (Individualized Education Program and school discipline issues), debt collection cases and tenant evictions, please call for a local intake appointment at (360) 533-2282 or toll free (866) 402-5293. No walk-ins, please.
For all other legal issues, please call our toll-free intake and referral hotline commonly known as “CLEAR” (Coordinated Legal Education Advice and Referral) at 1-888-201-1014, Mondays through Fridays 9:10 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. If you are a senior, 60 and over, please call 1-888-387-7111; you may be eligible regardless of income. Language interpreters are available. You can also complete an application for services at http://nwjustice.org/get-legal-help. Be sure to also check out our law library at: www.washingtonlawhelp.org.
Sarah Glorian is the senior attorney for the Aberdeen office of the Northwest Justice Project, a private, non-profit legal aid organization providing free representation to low-income residents in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties.