April 18, 2021

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Obamacare subsidies expanding for SC residents amid COVID-19

3 min read

No April fools. People who are unemployed or have low incomes may find better deals on health insurance, with plans costing little to nothing a month for them, thanks to a newly passed federal law.

As part of the American Rescue Plan, a law passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden last month, more people without health insurance will have access to low cost plans. The efforts are meant to expand affordable health care access to more people amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a spike in unemployment.

Low-income and unemployed people who purchase insurance through the marketplace, created by the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, can apply for the higher tax credits that lower the cost of health care. Those subsidies went into effect on Thursday. A special enrollment period runs through Aug. 15.

About 499,600 South Carolinians, or 12% of the non-elderly population, in the state do not have health insurance according to the 2019 American Community Survey.

Under the federal law, about 59,700 uninsured South Carolinians are now newly eligible for tax credits to help them pay for coverage through the marketplace. The COVID-19 stimulus plan also lowered how much households must contribute toward health insurance to be eligible for tax credits to 8.5% from 9.83%.

An additional 55,600 South Carolinians are expected to qualify for enough subsidies to cover the entire cost of their health insurance premiums because they earn 150% of the federal poverty level or less.

Nationally, an additional 9.5 million people who earn between 150% and 400% of the federal poverty level may be eligible for additional financial assistance to help lower the cost of health insurance through the marketplace. The number of South Carolinians who meet that definition was not immediately available.

“So many consumers who previously weren’t eligible for tax credits or financial assistance might be now, and really the best way to figure that out and make sure you choose a plan that suits your life, is contacting their agent,” said Brindy McNair, a spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, one of four companies in the state providing health insurance through the marketplace.

The reduction means many more consumers will have access to lower cost plans, including many where the premium costs nothing, because the entire premium cost is covered by the tax credit, a U.S. Health and Human Services spokesperson said in an email to The State.

According to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, a division of HHS, people who receive at least one week of unemployment assistance in 2021 may be eligible for additional tax credits this year to help pay premiums for coverage through the marketplace during the calendar year, with options that bring premiums down to $0 or to a low cost, as well as plans with lower out-of-pocket costs. Those additional savings on premiums would start in early July.

Premiums on the marketplace will decrease by between $50 per person per month and $85 per person per month, according to HHS.

HHS said 80% of marketplace enrollees around the country will be able to find health coverage for less than $10 a month, and more than half of enrollees will be able to find plans where insurance companies pay for 70% of health care costs for less than $10 a month.

About a quarter of enrollees will be able to upgrade their health insurance plans while paying the same price, HHS said.

“Every American deserves access to quality, affordable health care — especially as we fight back against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.

To purchase health insurance in South Carolina and to see if you qualify for financial assistance such as tax credits, go to healthcare.gov.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct an error on the number of uninsured South Carolinians who are newly eligible to obtain tax credits under the new federal law.

Corrected Apr 2, 2021

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Joseph Bustos is a state government and politics reporter at The State. He a Northwestern University graduate and previously worked in Illinois covering government and politics. He has won reporting awards in both Illinois and Missouri. He moved to South Carolina in November 2019.
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