With all the computer problems and heated debate about the Affordable Care Act, sometimes we need a reminder of why we have the law at all.
Gary Flaten knew being uninsured in his sixties meant gambling with his health. But he simply could no longer afford the steep cost of a private insurance plan. The Seattle-based caterer was just four years away from Medicare eligibility in 2010 when he was forced to drop his health coverage altogether.
Since Gary made his living with three independently- contracted part time jobs, he didn’t enjoy the perks of employer subsidized insurance. And even being in excellent health, the best private plan he could find burdened him with $300 monthly premiums.
“That’s $3,600 a year for nothing,” he says. “That’s a lot of money. I decided it wasn’t worth it.”
At age 61, he realized he’d have to drop the plan and hope his health didn’t take a turn for the worse.
But thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Gary no longer has to live in fear of getting sick or injured before his 65th birthday (when he’ll automatically join the Medicare program). Assisted by outreach specialists at partner organization WithinReach, he was able to enroll quickly and easily in Washington Apple Health and breathe a sigh of relief.
“[This] will give me peace of mind,” he said. “Being 64 and not having health insurance can give you a little anxiety. That is one anxiety I don’t have to worry about now.”
WithinReach is one of King County’s 23 partner organizations helping uninsured residents like Gary sign up for coverage they can afford. The organization specializes in bringing basic health and food resources to people across Washington state.
Washington state’s expansion of Medicaid (called “Apple Health”) under the Affordable Care Act created a whole new group of eligible residents. Previously, eligibility for Medicaid was restricted to specific low-income groups, such as pregnant women and the disabled.
Now, Apple Health includes any low-income adult — that is, anyone ages 19-64 whose annual income falls below 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (an annual salary of $15,856 for one person, and scaling up depending on the size of a family) will qualify for the program.
This will enable about 50% of previously uninsured Americans, like Gary, to qualify for Medicaid, according to data by the Kaiser Family Foundation.