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Starting Today, Obamacare Coverage Is A Lot More Affordable

Scott Graham

Obamacare coverage is getting a lot more affordable. Congress expanded insurance subsidies in its $1.9 trillion stimulus bill — and starting Thursday, you can go on HealthCare.Gov to see how much you’ll be able to save.

Here are some answers to some of the biggest questions about the Affordable Care Act.

How Much Will I Save?

It depends. Some very low-income families will now be able to get coverage at no cost. Those who currently have Obamacare will save money or be able to trade up for plans with better benefits. And some people who’ve never qualified for subsidies before may now be eligible for them.

In addition, for the first time, people who’ve lost their jobs may be eligible for no-cost premium plans.

But everyone has to go online to check out the changes for themselves.

What If I've Always Earned Too Much for A Subsidy?

Under the new law, no one has to pay more than 8.5% of their income on premiums. The Biden administration estimates that 116,000 North Carolinians who make more than 400% of the poverty level — $105,000 for a family of four — will now be eligible for subsidies.

So starting Thursday, people who make more than that amount can start checking out their options. Those without insurance may be able to get a plan for the first time, and others with limited coverage — like high deductible or short-term plans — may now be able to afford better coverage.

I Already Have An Obamacare Policy. Do I Need to Do Anything?

Yes. Many people who already get subsidies will get now bigger subsidies under the stimulus bill. But they need to sign in to HealthCare.gov to apply those subsidies to their current premiums. It doesn’t happen automatically. So if they don’t, their premiums won’t go down. Instead, they’ll get a tax credit at the end of the year.

The Biden administration is encouraging everyone to go onto HealthCare.gov because it wants people to use the new subsidies to buy better coverage. But people need to be careful if they change insurance companies — they might have to start paying down their deductible all over again.

So they have to do some research.

I'm a 'Low Earner.' ACA Premiums Have Always Been Too High. Will That Change?

Those who earn between 100% and 150% of the poverty level are now eligible for zero premium policies. That’s between $26,500 and $39,750 for a family of four.

The Biden administration estimates 112,000 uninsured North Carolinians fall into this group.

I Lost My Job During the Pandemic. How Will The Changes Affect Me?

People who've qualified for unemployment insurance will now be eligible for an ACA Silver plan at no cost. They will pay no premium, and they’ll pay less in deductibles too. That’s a big change. But unlike the other subsidies, these changes won't roll out until this summer. People can go online and sign up now, then get the subsidies retroactively later in the year.

The law also includes assistance for those who've lost their job, but couldn't afford COBRA payments to continue their job-based health insurance. The government will fully subsidize COBRA payments for six months.

How Long Will The New Subsidies Be Available?

People have between April 1 and Aug. 15 to go online. All the expanded ACA subsidies will last for two years with the exception of the help for people on unemployment. That's a one-year program.

So, Congress has to vote again to extend the subsidies beyond 2023. The Biden administration says it plans to roll out a health care bill next month, so we’ll see if that includes an extension of all the subsidies.

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Dana Miller Ervin is a reporter at WFAE, examining the U.S. health care system.