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health as it happens

ACA enrollment ends Aug. 15; thousands enrolling for health insurance at $10/month or less - Citizen Times

With help from the American Rescue Plan and an extended sign-up period, millions are enrolling for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, and many are getting covered for $10 or less per month. 

As that special enrollment period comes to an end Aug. 15, Shannon Cornelius, health justice program director with Pisgah Legal Services, is urging folks who need health insurance to get signed up along with tens of thousands of other North Carolinians. 

In Western North Carolina, "we are seeing many people who never qualified before get great plans with zero or very low deductibles," Cornelius said in a release. "This is especially true for those who received unemployment benefits for at least one week in 2021."

If that's the case, she said, people can get coverage for themselves and their families for $0 regardless of their current income level. 

One couple she worked with were looking at paying the same for their health care premium as for their mortgage and staring down the decision to pick one they could pay, Cornelius said. They ended up saving $1,000 per month going through the marketplace. 

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The pandemic kept Pisgah Legal Services busy in enrolling new people in 2020, but 2021 has nearly tripled that rate, according to federal data. 

"We definitely were busy in 2020 when the pandemic first happened," Cornelius said, when people started being laid off and weren't sure of their options with health insurance. 

In July, special financial assistance was extended to institute $0 monthly premiums for people who received at least one week of unemployment assistance, and the American Rescue Plan increased subsidies across the board, Cornelius said. 

"Little by little, people are figuring out, 'I can get so much more,'" she said, even people who already have health insurance through the ACA, who are updating their application and saving a lot of money each month. 

More than 2 million Americans have enrolled for the marketplace since the special enrollment period kicked off in February, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

According to CMS, 2.5 million consumers have gone back to the Marketplace since April 1 and lowered their monthly premiums by an average of 40%, and 34% of new and returning consumers have selected a plan for $10 or less per month since April 1.

From Feb. 15-June 30, CMS reports 91,166 new plan selections in North Carolina, compared to 32,697 during that same period in 2020 and 23,634 between Feb.15-June 30, 2019. 

Of those, 50% of newly-selected plans are $10 per month, Cornelius said.

Pisgah Legal is seeing people benefit from the increased subsidy included with the American Rescue Plan, she said, including forgiving repayment of 2020 tax credits that can lead some people paying back up to $20,000.

And while they've seen only a few people that applies to, it can make a big difference. 

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"There are a lot of provisions in the American Rescue Plan that just make sense," Cornelius said, especially with the many people locally who are employed in tourism-related industries, the gig economy, as contract workers or who are self-employed. 

The plan also extends premium assistance to families making more than 400% of the poverty level, set by the federal government at $25,600 for a family of four, she said. 

Now, a family of four making $106,000 or more per year can now get federal subsidies for health care premiums to ensure they're not paying more than 8.5% of their income on health insurance premiums, Cornelius said. 

Pisgah Legal Services offers assistance signing up for a health care plan through the ACA Marketplace at www.pisgahlegal.org and at 828-210-3404, which will take callers straight to an appointment.

People can also get started at healthcare.gov, or cuidadodesalud.gov for Spanish speakers. 

All plans cover essential benefits like doctor and hospital visits, prescription drugs, mental health treatment and maternity care, according to PLS, and comprehensive coverage cannot be denied based on pre-existing conditions. 

Cornelius said enrollment runs through midnight Aug. 15, a Sunday, and Pisgah Legal Services will offer appointments through Saturday. Aug. 14. 

Derek Lacey covers health care, growth and development for the Asheville Citizen Times. Reach him at [email protected] or 828-417-4842 and find him on Twitter @DerekAVL.