In Bobby Huffaker's opinion, the Affordable Care Act is alive and well and the demand for health insurance is as high as ever.
Huffaker is co-founder of the Chattanooga-based American Exchange, a health insurance agency that helps people find affordable health insurance in the individual market. Despite fewer advertising dollars and a shorter enrollment period in 2017, Huffaker and federal officials state 96 percent of those who enrolled on the ACA marketplace last year enrolled again this year.
"It shows the demand for access to health care in our country," said Huffaker, sitting in the conference room of American Exchange's downtown Chattanooga office.
And that demand is for a good reason. Huffaker said someone without health insurance who accidentally tore a ligament could pay anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 in hospital bills alone.
"Obviously going without health insurance could be detrimental to your financial future," he said. "If you were to have a catastrophic accident or chronic illness, you could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt."
Although health insurance is necessary for most people, the health insurance market is perplexing to the average consumer, and choosing the right plan can be a daunting task. The new tax law repeals the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, which requires most Americans to have some form of health coverage or pay a penalty, but that repeal will not go into effect until 2019, Huffaker said.
The local broker provided some tips for those who find themselves in need of health insurance coverage in 2018. If you lose coverage through your job then you are eligible for continuation of it for up to 18 months from either the state or through COBRA health plans, Huffaker said. For some, the plans might get expensive, so he also recommends looking at the federal marketplace and trying to find a plan on Healthcare.gov.
To apply on Healthcare.gov, you will need your modified adjusted gross income, which is the household's adjusted gross income plus any tax-exempt interest income. If you are self-employed then you'll need your profit that you bring home after expenses.
Huffaker said it is also necessary to have Social Security numbers for everyone in the household and information about doctors and prescription drugs. Individuals making less than $48,240 and a family of four making less than $98,400 could receive subsidies to reduce ACA premiums, too.
"The Affordable Care Act was a great thing because it allowed people that didn't have access to health care through their employers to be able to get it without pre-existing conditions exclusions," Huffaker said.
For those who qualify, Medicaid and the Children's Heath Insurance Program provide free or low-cost coverage, but Huffaker said Medicaid cuts in the future could make this option less feasible. Medicare is available to people 65 and older.
For Christians who are not yet 65 or older, Medi-Share is an option. Medi-Share describes itself as a health care sharing ministry. Huffaker recommends using a local broker to find the best plan.
"The only other way to get health care is through your employer, which is a terrible system because you are completely relying on your employer for health insurance," he said. "The Affordable Care Act was created to give people options."
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