By CHRISTIN COYNE
Residents of Parker County who may be affected by health insurance requirements under the Affordable Care Act have several opportunities to learn more about their options and how the new system works.
With the federal government rolling out the online Health Insurance Marketplace this month and deadlines to obtain required health coverage approaching, area residents can get free information from some local sources, as well as the federal governement website and phone number.
In an effort to educate families about how the federal health insurance exchange will work in Texas, or those just curious about how it all works, Weatherford Regional Medical Center CEO David Orcutt gave presentations Tuesday and Wednesday at area community events and is scheduled to give another Tuesday night at 6 p.m. at the Weatherford ISD Ninth Grade Center.
Those considering purchasing insurance on the Health Insurance Marketplace can also set up a time to talk with a certified application counselor at Weatherford Regional Medical Center at 817-599-1621.
The United Way of Tarrant County is also providing navigators in the Parker County area to work one-on-one with those who can’t use the government’s website or phone number and do group presentations about the exchange and coverage options. The phone number is (817) 258-8188.
Pecan Valley MHMR in Weatherford is providing application assistance, as well. Their phone number is (817) 579-4400.
The Affordable Care Act requires everyone to have health coverage in 2014 or pay a fee of $95 per adult, $47.50 per child or 1 percent of income, whichever is higher. The fees for failure to have health coverage will go up each year, as well.
With Medicare designed for those over the age of 65 years old and Medicaid targeting those under the poverty line, the health care insurance exchange is intended to reach those between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level who may not be offered insurance through their employer.
Those who aren’t covered by some other means, can shop four levels of plans through the exchange, including bronze, silver, gold and platinum.
Plans with lower premiums will have higher costs when using the coverage and vice versa.
Those ages 21 through 30 will also have catastrophic plans available through the exchange with high deductibles for those who don’t often use healthcare providers.
Many people will qualify for reduced costs through tax credits that are automatically applied to monthly premiums based on income level.
Those who are eligible for insurance through an employer can use the marketplace but won’t qualify for lower costs based on income unless the insurance is unaffordable or doesn’t meet minimum requirements.
All the plans will offer the same essential benefits covering doctors, medication, hospitalization and preventative services but will have some differences, as well. Health insurance plans won’t be able to refuse coverage or charge more because of pre-existing conditions.
Quotes on health coverage plans aren’t available until an application is completed.
It appears that the two main insurance companies offering coverage through the exchange in Parker County are Cigna and Blue Cross Blue Shield, according to Orcutt.
Weatherford Regional Medical Center and Lonestar Medical Group doctors will be accepting both insurance providers, Orcutt said. It will be up to other local doctors which insurance companies they work with.
Each plan must provide a link to the health-care providers in their network, according to Orcutt.
Those who enroll through the marketplace by Dec. 15 should be covered by Jan. 1, though enrollment will be open through March 31.
More than a week after the website was unveiled, using the online marketplace still appeared to be difficult and time-consuming Thursday.
Though there did not appear to be a wait time Thursday afternoon and the application itself was straightforward, requiring basic information such as social security numbers and income information, other issues plagued the process.
During the account creation and application process Thursday, many error messages appeared but refreshing the page, logging out and back in or reanswering some questions often appeared to resolve the issue.
At least one link to a form necessary to obtain information regarding coverage offered by an employer did not work.
Asked about difficulty accessing eligibility results after a completed application, a marketplace representative said the website was having issues with the volume of traffic and suggested attempting to view results during non-peak hours.
Those interested in getting more information or applying can visit www.healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596.