The online shop to buy health insurance opened Tuesday. It’s called the Marketplace.
It’s a big part of the individual mandate, one of the key pieces of the Affordable Care Act aimed at getting healthcare coverage for the uninsured.
Teesha Northcott and her 7-year-old son, Thomas, have not had health insurance in four years.
Northcott works as a medical aesthetician in a small business that doesn’t provide coverage.
The single mother pays for medical care out of pocket.
“It's a little bit of a struggle, especially when my son has an asthma attack and we're in the ER,” Northcott said. “You have to put it on a credit card to make sure you can afford that visit.”
Each trip sets her back $700 to $1,300 dollars, depending on whether medicine is administered.
Northcott is not alone. More than 66,000 Alaskans don’t have health insurance. Bonnie Welsh is one of them.
“I love working for a small company because obviously I know everybody I'm working with,” Welsh said. “It's like a family.”
But, she has not had health insurance since 1997. So regular checkups have not been a priority.
“If I'm not really dead-dog dying, I don't go to the doctor,” Welsh said.
When she does, each visit costs up to $350.
“One of the other things I do is whenever I get a notification or see something on Facebook about a health fair, I always get bloodwork done.”
For dental work, Welsh heads south.
“In Mexico, instead of around $200 for a filling, it's around $35 to get a filling done,” she said.
Welsh said she wants health insurance, but under the Affordable Care Act, given her age and income, she will have to pay anywhere from $266 to $710 a month, depending on the plan.
“It's a lot of money,” Welsh said. “For some people, it doesn't sound like much, but when you have other bills you have to pay, you worry, 'Are we eating Hamburger Helper? We're never seeing a steak again!'”
Welsh makes too much money to qualify for federal help, so she said she may pay the penalty—which is $95 per adult, or one percent of annual income, whichever is higher.
But by 2016, that fee will go up to $695, or two percent of annual income, whichever is higher.
For families who don’t enroll by March 31, 2014, they will pay per adult, plus $47.50 per child or up to $285 per family, whichever is higher.
In 2016, uninsured families will have to pay a penalty per adult, plus $347.50 per child or up to $2,085 per family, whichever is higher.
According to ACA, “affordable” is 9.5 percent of your income. The higher your income, the more you’ll pay for insurance premiums—unless your income falls between 100 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
For a single person in Alaska, that’s $14,350 to $57,400.
For a household of two, that’s $19,380 to $77,520.
Northcott and her son, however, will get some federal help.
One plan on the federal marketplace costs $460 per month, which Northcott said is affordable.
“Absolutely,” she said. “Wow.”
“I couldn’t ensure a 33-year-old woman and a 7-year-old child in the past for that kind of premium,” said Joshua Weinstein, co-owner of Northrim Benefits, which houses Enroll Alaska, an insurance brokerage that signs Alaskans for plans.
Northcott currently pays out-of-pocket every month for prescription medicine alone.
“It's $325 average—and that’s with coupons,” she said.
Northcott eventually signed up for a marketplace insurance plan.
“I'm so excited,” she said. “This is just a big burden lifted off of my shoulders. (Weinstein) said in January we would be covered. That's light at the end of our tunnel. Hopefully, it means we can set up a college fund for Thomas.”
Northcott said she will soon no longer have to delay appointments for herself.