Midlands insurance buyers could qualify for new premium assistance program

jholleman@thestate.comMarch 17, 2014 

JEFF BLAKE — jblake@thestate.com Buy Photo

Some residents who have been reluctant to sign up for a policy on the Health Insurance Marketplace because of the price now might have reason to reconsider.

The Cooperative Ministry on Monday announced an Insurance Premium Assistance Program that will pay up to $599 of health insurance premiums during a year for some policyholders. The effort will be paid for with a $200,000 grant from a supporter who wishes to remain anonymous, according to Wanda Pearson, strategy and impact officer for The Cooperative Ministry.

The requirements for receiving financial help with premiums are simple:

•  Income: Only people making between 100 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible. That’s $11,490 to $22,980 for an individual. You also must qualify for Advance Premium Tax Credits.

•  Policies: Only people with a silver-level health plan and only those who have paid their first premium are eligible.

•  Residence: You must live in Richland, Lexington or Fairfield counties.

Someone who already has paid the first few months of premiums for a policy on the federal Health Insurance Marketplace still can apply for the premium assistance program to cover future premiums. The funds go directly to insurance companies, and the program will not reimburse policy holders for premiums already paid.

Someone with monthly premiums of $66 or less who already has paid for the first three months of the year, could have the rest of the year’s premiums covered if approved for the program.

The maximum premium covered by the program is $2,396 for a family of four.

Most people in the state earning more than $11,490 will be required to have health insurance this year or face an income tax penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their income, whichever is higher. The deadline for getting coverage to avoid the penalty is March 31.

“We’ve had some who see their premium and decide it’s smarter to avoid the whole thing and just pay the penalty,” said Pearson, whose group received a federal grant to provide navigators to help people through healthcare.gov system.

She hopes the premium assistance program will convince some in that category to reconsider. Because people making less than $22,980 also are eligible for tax subsidies for their premiums, some of the people approved for the assistance program could be covered for the rest of the year for the cost of one month’s premiums.

The Cooperative Ministry’s navigator program is separate from the premium assistance program. So once someone has paid the first premium for new insurance policies, they need to fill out an application for the premium assistance program. Applications are available 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday at The Cooperative Ministry’s office at 3821 W. Beltline Blvd., Columbia.

For more details, call (803) 799-3853, Ext. 602, or email info@coopmin.org.

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