Q. My only income is $1,400 a month from Social Security Disability. I don’t have health insurance and I won’t be eligible for Medicare for almost two years. It’s cruel for the government to force me to buy coverage I can’t afford!
A. An upset-sounding woman called a network public affairs program I tuned into last night with this concern. Unfortunately, the expert taking the call got an important part of the answer wrong. He said, correctly, that she’d receive a subsidy for the premium—but added that she would still be facing an annual deductible of $4,000 or more.
The last part of his answer was just plain wrong. One of the lesser-known benefits of the new health care law is that anyone with an income of less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level—as the lady who called in most assuredly has—not only gets a tax credit to lower the cost of the premium, but a huge break on out-of-pocket costs.
The caller didn’t reveal her age or location, but for illustration’s sake let’s say she’s 60 years old and lives in San Jose, Calif. This is not a random choice; California is running its own health insurance marketplace, Covered California, and it allows visitors to easily preview their subsidies and insurance choices before registering at the site. (If only Healthcare.gov, the federal site that's the portal to the insurance marketplaces of 36 states, could do as well.)
And it turns out that with her income of $16,800 a year, this lady’s insurance will cost next to nothing to buy and to use.