Universal healthcare applications begin Oct. 1

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Thomas Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor, speaks about the importance of local government during the Affordable Healthcare forum Monday in nursing complex.  Michael Peters

Thomas Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor, speaks about the importance of local government during the Affordable Healthcare forum Monday in nursing complex. Michael Peters

Those who don’t apply will be charged a penalty fee during tax filing.

By Katherine Garcia

kgarcia203@student.alamo.edu

To help students understand policies the new health care act puts into place, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Mayor Julian Castro, state Representatives Lloyd Doggett, Pete Gallego and others answered questions Monday in a forum in the nursing complex.

Beginning Tuesday, citizens without health insurance will have the opportunity to sign up for coverage as approved by the Affordable Health Care Act online by clicking on Get Insurance at healthcare.gov.

Anyone can apply from Oct. 1 through March 31, and coverage begins as soon as Jan. 1.

Those with pre-existing conditions, including 17.6 million children in the U.S., can’t be denied health coverage anymore.

“If you have a pre-existing condition, that’s no longer a death sentence,” Perez said.

Those with individual health insurance plans not purchased through an employer are the exception. These grandfathered plans purchased on or before March 23, 2010, are exempted from covering pre-existing conditions under the Affordable Healthcare Act.

People with these plans may switch to a Marketplace plan and are immediately covered for their pre-existing conditions.

The 4.8 million uninsured Texans, including more than 307,000 uninsured San Antonians, will benefit, said Marjorie Petty, regional director for health and human services for the U.S. Department of Health.

Perez said six out of 10 Americans who are eligible for coverage are eligible to receive it for as little as $100 a month.

Perez likened this to being cheaper than a monthly smart phone bill.

In response to a student’s question of why insurance is necessary, Perez said, “You’re not as invincible as you think, and that’s why enrolling young, healthy people is so important.”

He said young people need to know that they’re one accident away from being very unhealthy.

“I have a 17-year-old,” Perez said. “I would never want a situation where she even has a day where she’s not enrolled because things happen that you don’t foresee.”

Nursing sophomore and mother of three Jami Boatwright said she has three children on Medicaid but can’t afford insurance for herself.

“I have three kids, and I’m a single mom, so even $100 a month is not in my budget,” she said.

Boatwright said the penalty tax for those without insurance is a “penalization for being poor.”

Petty said those who are able to afford healthcare but refuse to pay for it will be charged a penalty tax.

Unemployed people can qualify for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program or reduced costs on insurance.

Coverage options and cost for them are dependent on household size, current income and estimated income for 2014.

The fee, or the “individual shared responsibility payment,” is $95 or 1 percent of income, which is charged when filing income taxes in 2014.

The fee goes back into the Department of Treasury’s general fund.

For every opportunity missed to receive health insurance, the fee will increase to as high as $695 per yearly tax filing, or 2.5 percent of income.

The fee for uninsured children is $47.50 per child, not to exceed $285.

Those who apply for healthcare but cannot pay are exempt from the penalty tax, Petty said, adding the fee is an incentive for people to get health insurance and for businesses to offer it.

Exemptions can be claimed in the Health Insurance Marketplace with 2013 tax returns or when 2014 tax returns are filed.

They include hardship exemptions, such as being homeless, and another exemption if the low-priced coverage suggested for you actually costs 8 percent more than your household income.

A complete list of exemptions is online at www.healthcare.gov/ exemptions/.

Click on the “Get Insurance” tab at healthcare.gov and enter the home state. “Live chat” is also offered at the bottom of the screen.

Spanish-speakers can go online to ciudadsalud.gov.

Applicants can call 1-800-318- 2596 to speak to a representative available 24/7.

Rep. Doggett, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and Rep. Elliot Naishat will speak on the benefits of healthcare reform at 10 a.m. today at the University Health System’s Robert B. Green Campus, 903 W. Martin St.

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