1. Know the facts
Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act requires that you must have health coverage or pay a penalty (in most cases). You will have more choices for buying health coverage and more control of your healthcare decisions than ever before, and you can also get coverage even if you have preexisting health issues.
There will also be changes to your healthcare benefits and costs, including benefits as well as new taxes and fees. You may qualify for tax credits to help pay for your coverage.
2. Be prepared to enroll in a health plan
Anyone who does not have health insurance can purchase it during an open enrollment period from October 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014. Coverage will begin in January 2014, if your application is received by the 15th of the month, your coverage will be effective the first day of the next month; applications after the 15th will be effective the following month.
To enroll, first be sure to gather basic information about your household income, you can purchase insurance directly from a carrier such as Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI), or through HealthSource RI, our states insurance marketplace where you can learn more about plan options from different carriers. Through HealthSourceRI.com, individuals, families, and small employers will be able to compare plans, buy health insurance, and determine if they qualify for tax credits.
3. Learn about possible financial assistance
Financial assistance through tax credits will be available for people at certain household income levels. In order to receive tax credits, you must not be eligible for affordable coverage through your employer and you must enroll for coverage through HealthSource RI.
Resources at BCBSRI.com/HealthcareReform and an online calculator available from HealthSource RI can help you understand whether you qualify for assistance.
4. Get the most out of your coverage
Health plans now cover many preventive services with no additional costs (such as copays) when members visit in-network doctors. Using preventive care, or services that screen for and help prevent disease, is one of the best ways to improve our health and lower healthcare costs. Preventive care includes services like flu shots and other immunizations, blood tests, and screenings such as mammograms, Pap tests, and colonoscopies.
5. Stay informed and keep learning
Healthcare reform is complex and can be confusing, but there are a lot of resources available to break it down for you. The U.S. government website, Healthcare.gov, includes information in Spanish and other languages. Our own website on healthcare reform, BCBSRI.com/HealthcareReform, provides more Rhode Island-focused information for individuals and employers, including a glossary and frequently asked questions.
Please email us at BCBSRIcommunications@bcbsri.org with questions or to suggest future topics for this column. You can also stop by our customer service walk-in center at 500 Exchange Street in Providence, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Working together, we can make Rhode Island a healthier place.