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Small changes

Some new health care options for Mass. residents

The Affordable Care Act, the “ObamaCare” law that requires Americans to enroll in health insurance, will make relatively small ripples in Massachusetts compared to other parts of the country as it rolls in in coming weeks.

But some residents will be able to receive federal aid for the first time and others must enroll in a new subsidized plan by the end of this year. A key provision of the law modeled on the Massachusetts online health insurance marketplaces went live Tuesday across the country.

The state’s 2006 health insurance law gave subsidized coverage to households with incomes up to three times the federal poverty level.

But under the federal law, that line extends to four times the poverty level — which sets the upper yearly income limits at about $46,000 a year for an individual or $94,000 for a family of four. It means that 40,000 more residents across the state will now be eligible.

The number of Franklin County residents benefiting from the change was unavailable this week — because the U.S. Census Bureau’s website was offline due to the federal government shutdown.

In another change, local residents enrolled in Commonwealth Care, the state’s subsidized insurance program for the poor, will have to switch to new plans next year.

Jason Lefferts, spokesman for the state’s insurance marketplace, the Massachusetts Health Connector, said that some will be transferred automatically to MassHealth — the state’s federally funded Medicaid program.

Lefferts said that others will have until Dec. 23 to enroll in a new plan through the Health Connector, at little to no cost. The changes will take effect Jan. 1.

The number of Franklin County residents who will have to re-enroll was not available, said Leffferts, because of an inability to access census records due to the government shutdown.

The Health Connector started letting people know about the changes last month, he said.

“A significant outreach effort will begin this month, including mail, and recorded and live phone calls,” said Lefferts. “A member who does not re-enroll will hear from us at least 10 times between now and the end of the year.”

Health organizations
helping enroll

Baystate Franklin Medical Center has financial advisers who are certified application counselors, said spokeswoman Amy Swisher.

They are able to help Commonwealth Care members re-apply to new coverage or help that new bracket of people (between three and four times the poverty level) who can now apply.

She said people can call 413-773-2849 to schedule an appointment.

People have already been calling the Community Health Center of Franklin County with questions about the change, said Development Director Cameron Carey.

“The point that is concerning most people is ... the unknown,” he said. “How much is it going to cost? What’s it going to cover? Is dental coverage included?”

Health center staff have tried to reassure concerned residents that they have about 2 1∕2 months to make the appropriate changes. The Health Connector’s website, www.mahealthconnector.org, has guides and information about how to enroll.

Still some uninsured

In Franklin County, about 7.5 percent of adults below 65 (the age when people qualify for the federally funded Medicare program) are uninsured, according to Baystate Franklin Medical Center’s latest Community Health Needs Assessment.

The Community Health Center received a $65,500 grant in August to help connect local uninsured people with health insurance plans.

People who don’t enroll in health insurance will face federal penalties taken out of their federal tax returns. There is no longer a state penalty.

Next year, the penalty will be 1 percent of a person’s income (or $95 per adult, whichever is higher). It will increase to 2.5 percent (or $695 per adult) in 2016.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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