The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

National News

March 21, 2014

Q&A: Am I stuck in my job's costly health plan?

WASHINGTON — The new health care law helps some people, hurts others and confuses almost everyone. Hoping to simplify things a bit, The Associated Press asked its Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus followers for their real-life questions about the program and the problems they're running into as the March 31 deadline approaches to sign up for coverage in new insurance markets.

Two of their questions and our answers:

CAN THEY FINE ME?

Q: "I'm currently unemployed and without health insurance. How does this affect me at this time? ... I'll be fined because I can't afford coverage?" — Cat Moncure, Harrisonburg, Va.

A: As long as you don't have income, the government doesn't require you to get health coverage and won't fine you. Specifically, if you don't make enough money so that you have to file a federal tax form, you're in the clear from the law's insurance mandate. The tax-filing threshold is $10,000 for an individual, $20,000 for a family.

But let's say you get a job this year and earn enough so that you have to file a 2014 tax form. Then you'll have to do some math to see whether you have come under the requirement to get health insurance.

If the cheapest policy you can get costs more than 8 percent of your income, you still don't need health insurance. In that case, you'll get an exemption from the coverage requirement when you file your taxes. If you make more than that, then you will need coverage or face an IRS penalty.

Of course, none of this helps you get health care if you need to see a doctor while you are jobless.

In some states, Medicaid is the answer because they've expanded the program to low-income adults without children, not just families, children or certain disabled or elderly adults. But Virginia did not expand its program. The new Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe, has made Medicaid expansion a priority. But there's no telling how long that might take or whether he'll succeed.

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