Groups to help with applications for new health care insurance - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Groups to help with applications for new health care insurance

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Several local non-profits groups are gearing up to help people sign up for the new health care insurance program. The process begins October 1. To help launch the sign up campaign the federal government awarded grant money to several non-profits across the nation. The money pays for positions called navigators the bulk of the cash sent to Texas is being managed by organizations in the Dallas Metroplex and in San Antonio.

The board of one local group, which didn't get any federal money, has decided the lack of compensation will not prevent them from helping out.

The Foundation Communities office in south Austin, typically, is where low income families get financial planning assistance and tax help. So the decision to become part of the new health care insurance enrollment process was a no brainier. The foundation brought in Elizabeth Colvin to manage the project.

"And when we saw the application, for the marketplace, when you look at it, it asks for your dependents your filings status your adjusted growth income all of these tax terms we realized we could leverage the expertise of our wonderful volunteers to help people figure out the market place apply correctly and get the benefits of the affordable Health Care Act," said Colvin

Fifty volunteers have been trained so far to be certified application counselors. The goal is to have at least 80. Some will work out of the Highland Mall where an enrollment center is also being set up. Both will be open seven days a week.

"Anyone can come in, because the benefits under the AFA go up to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty level which is as high as around $90,000 for a family of four," said Colvin.

Ruth Johnson is expected to be one of the first top sign up for the insurance. Johnson is a freelance specialist who works with autistic children. The insurance will provide her a much needed safety net.

"It's a peace of mind, peace of mind, it makes me feel better but there is a lot I don't know about," said Johnson.

Foundation Communities estimates at least 100,000 people in Travis County are eligible to sign up with about 2 million statewide. It will involve a leap of faith to pick a plan right now because in Texas, an official list of companies that will participate has yet to be released. There are reportedly four different plans: platinum, gold, silver and bronze, which is the least expensive.

Earlier this month, the Kaiser Family Foundation reviewed premium costs in 17 states that have set up insurance Marketplaces. According to the Kaiser study, in Baltimore a 25-year-old male, who makes $25,000 a year, which makes him eligible for a tax credit, would pay $144 a month for the silver plan. The low cost bronze plan would run about $80 a month.

For a family of four, with 40-year-old parents who have an income of $60,000, the monthly tax credit premium for the silver plan is set at $409. Bronze costs $164 with the tax credit factored in.

The least expensive plans are expected to have the highest co-pays and out of pocket costs for policy holders. Open enrollment ends in March.

Researchers warn rates vary from state to state and while those reported so far appear lower than expected local factors cannot be ignored. For example in Texas, according to analysts Anne Dunkelberg, cost calculations have been thrown off for health care providers.

"They were supposed to be offset in part by more adults getting Medicaid coverage in Texas and if we don't do that piece then the finances don't really work out for our hospitals," said Dunkelberg.

Things could start to sort themselves out when a Texas plan is made public possibly by next week, according to Dunkelberg. But each passing day gives those brought in to help with the launch less time to adjust to any policy surprises.

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