MODESTO — Its just about decision time for a ton of people affected by the Affordable Care Act, the federal law that will require U.S. residents to have insurance or pay a tax penalty next year.
About 250 packed a Modesto Junior College lecture hall Thursday to learn more about the law and what it means to them. Health journalist Emily Bazar was the guest speaker for the event sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Bee, MJC Civic Engagement Project and the Center for Health Reporting.
Bazar writes the Ask Emily column that has found a home in more than 20 newspapers and radio station websites to help consumers understand the complex law.
At Thursdays forum, she ran through a presentation on the many aspects of whats been called Obamacare and answered questions from a civil audience that included students, working adults, seniors and other community members. Since starting the column in April, Bazar has answered myriad questions from readers, such as whether the health care reform law covers a child being adopted from Eastern Europe or whether a family falls into the kid glitch in the law.
She has found that many people are utterly confused about the 2,000-page bill signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, she said.
I am very frustrated with how complex the law is, said Bazar, a senior writer for the USC Annenberg Center for Health Reporting and former reporter for USA Today.
She stressed that people with good employer-based insurance, Medicare or Medi-Cal coverage are not affected by the provisions for 2014.
The audience learned about the Covered California health exchange, tax credits available to lower premiums, eligibility limits and next years expansion of the Medi-Cal program. From Oct. 1 to March 31, the uninsured or poorly insured in Stanislaus County can choose from Covered California plans offered through four insurers: Anthem Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente, Blue Shield and Health Net.
Bazar used the calculator available at www.coveredca.com to show the premiums and tax credits for some audience members. Others had questions about whether aunts and uncles would be included in household income or whether they could keep their coverage if they move to another part of California.
During a break, Modesto resident Shannon Morris said she hopes to buy insurance. She said she needs surgery but isnt healthy enough to work full time to qualify for employer-based health benefits.
I have learned some things, she said of the forum. I dont get the tax credit part yet.
Next year, the federal income tax penalty for being an uninsured adult will be $95 or 1 percent of annual income. By 2016, the penalty grows to $695 or 2.5 percent of income. Parents will have to pay half the adult tax for uninsured children.
Covered Californias health plans will be offered with different coverage levels Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum. The Bronze is cheapest in terms of monthly premiums but requires customers to pay more out of pocket for lab tests or treatment if they need care. The Platinum covers 90 percent of medical costs but has far more expensive premiums, Bazar said.
In Stanislaus County, the Silver or 70 percent coverage level will cost an estimated $295 to $328 a month for a 40-year-old person or $884 to $1,189 a month for a family of four. But the law provides tax credits for single adults earning $15,860 to $45,960 annually or a family of four with income of $32,500 to $94,200 a year.
For example, a 40-year-old adult choosing the Anthem plan would qualify for a $129 federal subsidy if he or she earns $27,000 a year, lowering the premium to $166 a month.
Covered California has not released information about physician groups and hospitals that will participate in plans. That information is expected later this month or in October.
Bazar told students in the audience that the health law has more options for young adults than any other age group. Many universities offer insurance that will meet the federal requirements, she said.
More than 5 million California residents are believed to be eligible for health plans being offered through the Covered California exchange and 2.6 million may qualify for tax credits to help them pay the premiums.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.