By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — If you are eligible and want to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act Insurance Marketplace, you have until March 31 to do so.
Unfortunately, some people are under the impression that you can no longer sign up for health insurance through the marketplace, but that is not true, said Kyra Pickett, a certified application counselor employed by Dunn County.
People who want to get insurance through the Marketplace can sign up until March 31, and their coverage will begin May 1, said Pickett, a native of Colfax.
If people sign up by March 15, their insurance coverage will begin April 1, she said.
Signing up by the middle of the month or at the end of the month is the key to when insurance coverage will start. If people sign up by the middle of the month, their insurance coverage will begin at the first of the next month. If people sign up for insurance by the end of the month, their insurance coverage will begin the first of the following month, Pickett explained.
After March 31, people will only be able to sign up for health insurance through the marketplace if they experience a “life change,” Pickett said.
Life changes that will create eligibility for insurance through the marketplace include getting married, getting divorced, having a child, or if you no longer qualify for insurance through your employer or lose coverage through an employer, she explained.
Paying the fine
After March 31, people who are eligible to sign up for insurance through the marketplace but who do not have insurance will have to pay a fine, Pickett said.
The fine starts out this year at $98 per adult in the family, or two percent your income, plus a reduced fine amount for each child, she said.
In following years the fine increases, so that by 2016, the amount will be $200 per adult, Pickett said.
The fine will be calculated when you file your income taxes so that your tax refund is reduced by that amount, or if you owe income taxes, the amount you owe will be increased by that amount, she said.
If paying the insurance premium actually is a hardship, then people can file a waiver and will not have to pay the fine, Pickett said.
Pickett said that so far, she has signed up more than 200 people for insurance through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace and that only 46 people who have come into her office have been eligible for Badger Care.
Unfortunately, many people who come into Pickett’s office at the Dunn County Health Department in the Government Center on Wilson Avenue are completely misinformed about the Affordable Care Act Insurance Marketplace.
Pickett said a number of people have come in who say they do not know why they are trying to sign up for insurance because they know they cannot afford it and that they will have to chose between paying the monthly insurance premium and making their house payment — and walk out with a premium of $24 per month for health insurance.
In many cases, between the tax credit that is available and the subsidy for the insurance premium, people pay zero dollars for their health insurance, Pickett said.
People are delighted because for some of them, for the very first time in their lives, they have health insurance, she said.
“I have not had anybody leave here saying they are not happy or they cannot afford (the insurance),” Pickett said.
While it is true that the deductible could be $6,000, if someone is in a car accident or suffers some other mishap or medical emergency and goes to the emergency room, that person has probably already spent $6,000, Pickett said, never mind if the person ends up hospitalized, needs medication, surgery, follow-up care or physical therapy.
And yes, it is true that Dunn County has a free clinic, but the services available through the free clinic are limited and may not be able to treat the source of someone’s medical problems, Pickett said.
Also, the reality of life in Wisconsin, especially in the winter, is that you can be most careful of drivers and still end up in a car accident on slippery roads or slip and fall on icy steps or sidewalks, she noted.
Anyone who would like assistance in the process of signing up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace can contact the Dunn County Health Department to make an appointment with Pickett at (715) 232-2388.
Prior to meeting with Dunn County’s certified application counselor, people should gather the following information to bring with them: Social Security number; income information for every person in your family who needs health insurance coverage (pay stubs; W-2 forms; tax returns); policy numbers for any current insurance plans covering members of your household.
If you have access to a computer, you can also sign up for health insurance by visiting www.healthcare.gov.