NEVADA COUNTY, Calif. — Like it or not, Obamacare is coming.
Implementation of a substantial portion of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, begins today.
As federal legislators continue to strut, fret and posture in Washington, D.C., with Obamacare at the center of seemingly ceaseless political wrangling, officials with Nevada County’s Health and Human Services Agency are preparing to install the largest and most important piece of the 2010 federal law.
“The public has the opportunity to enroll in health care coverage for themselves and their families, and that’s really the important piece to us,” said Nevada County Director of Social Services Nicole Pollack.
One of the major prongs of the Affordable Care Act establishes a state marketplace where individuals, families and small businesses can shop for health insurance.
Individuals making about $16,000 per year or less, or a family of four making about $32,500 or less combined, will be able to access medical insurance without having to pay.
Individuals making less than $42,000 or families of four making under $94,000 are eligible to receive tax subsidies to help defray the cost of health insurance plans.
A misconception persists that the fiercely controversial piece of federal legislation is crafted solely to provide coverage to low-income households, Pollack said.
In actuality, people of any income can use the collective purchasing power of California’s health marketplace to compare and shop for more affordable health insurance plans.
“It’s expanded health care access,” Pollack said. “No matter what income, there is a cost-sharing ratio that benefits everybody.”
However, a large piece of the program is providing health care coverage to residents without coverage.
Jeffrey Brown, director of Nevada County Health and Human Services Agency, said a study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles found that about 12,000 residents (12 percent of the total population) are uninsured.
Of the 12,000, about 4,000 would qualify for Medi-Cal, the state program that serves low-income families. Another 4,000 would qualify for tax subsidies, with the remainder possessing relatively high annual incomes.
“The most important thing is to get uninsured people educated about their options,” Brown said.
The enrollment period begins on Oct. 1 and runs through the end of December.
People who sign up will have health insurance take effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
There is an extension on the enrollment period that runs through March of next year. If people are not enrolled by the expiration of that period, they will be forced to wait until the following year.
Brown said it is important for people to begin to collect the necessary documents to enroll, which include a form of photo identification, a proof of residency, some tax documents to verify income and information regarding other members of the family, including Social Security numbers, birthdates, etc.
In 2014, people who remain uninsured will be assessed with a tax penalty, Brown said.
People will be charged 1 percent of their annual income in the first year of the law and 2 percent in following years, Brown said.
The health marketplace and extending health care access to low-income segments of the population represents one prong of a comprehensive law that also extends health insurance to people 26 and younger whose parents maintain coverage, removing lifetime limits on the value of coverage plans, prohibiting health insurance companies from refusing coverage based on pre-existing coverages and from rescinding coverage unless there is a case of fraud.