Nonprofit 411: New health insurance benefits and opportunities available through the Massachusetts Health Connector

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By Audrey Morse Gasteier, Deputy Director of Policy & Research, Director of Employer Policy, Massachusetts Health Connector

Whether you are a small nonprofit organization providing coverage to employees or an individual looking for health insurance for you and your family, the Massachusetts Health Connector is providing more choice, benefits, and expanded subsidy opportunities than ever before through implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Take a look at the opportunities available to you and know that individual shoppers have until March 31, 2014 to explore options and find the best health insurance plan for them and their family. Businesses shopping for their employees can shop for group health insurance when they are up for renewal or any month if they don’t already offer group health insurance.

Health care reform in Massachusetts has been a landmark success, with nearly all of the Commonwealth’s residents covered by health insurance. The ACA was modeled after Massachusetts’ successful program, but there are a number of differences that the Health Connector, our state’s health insurance exchange, is working to implement that will make health care in Massachusetts more accessible and affordable than ever before. Despite significant challenges in IT infrastructure, the Health Connector has been able to work with state agencies, insurance carriers, community groups, and other stakeholders to ensure no one has a gap in coverage and everyone is able to get insurance in a timely manner.

Below are some of the benefits available to small businesses and individuals through the Health Connector:

Small Business Tax Credit
There is good news for small businesses looking to buy insurance for their employees: small businesses that purchase coverage through the Health Connector can receive a federal tax credit that is worth up to 50 percent of what the company pays for employee premiums if they meet certain criteria. This benefit is only available to small businesses that purchase through the Health Connector.

Small Business Wellness Program
Businesses can also participate in the Health Connector’s Wellness Track program and save an additional 15 percent on premium costs, while offering programs to employees to help them lead a healthier lifestyle. Business owners can work with their broker (if they work with one) to find a plan and access these financial benefits. This benefit is also only available to small businesses that purchase through the Health Connector.

Small Business & Individual Dental Coverage
The Health Connector is making dental coverage available for the first time, for both individuals and businesses.

Expanded Plans & Subsidies for Individuals
With more than 100 plans to choose from, individual consumers have the opportunity to find the right plan. The ACA has also created expanded subsidies for individuals, raising the income eligibility limits to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. This means an individual earning about $45,000 or a family of four earning about $94,000 can qualify for financial help paying for health insurance if they don’t have access to affordable coverage through an employer or another program. Many people will also become newly eligible for the state’s Medicaid program, MassHealth.

The open enrollment period for individuals to buy insurance through the Health Connector runs through March 31, but thousands of people have already been able to access new plans that cover their needs while accessing the financial benefits created by the Affordable Care Act. By visiting MAhealthconnector.org, individuals and businesses can use the browsing feature to review possible rates and apply for health insurance. Small businesses can also ask their insurance broker to explore options that are made available through the Health Connector. Businesses can shop upon renewal and are not subject to the open enrollment period windows that apply to individuals.

For individuals interested in in-person assistance, Navigators and Certified Application Counselors (CACs) can help explain the new coverage options available as a result of national health care reform. These trained and certified individuals can help people with applications and enrollment, and can also answer questions about eligibility, applications, payments, plan details, and health care reform rules and requirements. For a list of Navigators and CACs, click here.

Massachusetts has a history of being at the forefront of health care access and affordability, and implementing the Affordable Care Act is the next step in the Commonwealth’s progress toward even greater availability of affordable and high-quality health care for all of its residents. Health insurance is important for both families and businesses, and it is worth taking the time now to review your options and making sure you have the right plan for yourself, your families, and your employees.