Shawn and I signed up for “Obamacare” yesterday, and we got a really good health plan for a very affordable price. I wanted to share this story for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted our story to serve as a counterpoint to the hysteria that is being passed around about canceled health plans and skyrocketing rates.

The other reason I wanted to share our story was because it directly relates to our efforts to get out of debt. We got a health plan that covers both of us for just a little bit more than the cost of a plan that was only covering me.

Previous to “Obamacare” (which is also called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or the Affordable Care Act, or ACA),  I was having problems with my health insurance coverage.

To make a long story short, my health insurance company sold me a health plan at a reasonable cost, then raised the rates, and then discontinued my plan. They tried to push me into a more expensive (non-discontinued plan) that didn’t cover as much as my first plan did. Recently, I got a letter from my insurance company that stated that my current plan would be canceled as of January 1, 2014.

For a little while, Shawn and I had dental insurance coverage. I’ve gone for two checkups, and had two appointments to fix some fillings. Shawn has been to the dentist for one checkup, and learned that our dental plan would not cover something he needed. It also won’t cover what I will need in a few years when, as my dentist explained, two giant metal fillings are likely to “fail”.

We have had some financial difficulties lately, mostly due to my inability to find an adequate amount of freelance writing work. As you may have guessed, this resulted in our need to cancel our dental insurance. We now have no coverage at all for that.

Shawn has Medicaid part A, which sounds like it would provide at least a basic amount of health care coverage. It doesn’t. You need Medicaid Part B for that, and he doesn’t have it. A few years ago, I was working at a job that provided health insurance coverage that covered both me and Shawn. This meant he didn’t need to apply for Part B (as my insurance was covering the same stuff). But, then I lost my job, and the insurance that came with it. Long story short, Shawn really didn’t have any actual health insurance coverage.

Shawn and I use an insurance broker to help us find health (and dental) plans that we can (almost) afford. The agents in that office have been extraordinarily helpful in my long and arduous quest to find health insurance coverage. Recently, we got an email from their office that walked us through how to prepare for a meeting with them. That meeting would be when they would help us sign up for health insurance through Covered California.

Covered California is the name of the state-based health insurance Marketplace for people who live in California. Your state may have its own Marketplace (with a different name). If you aren’t sure what your state decided to call their Marketplace, or, if you live in a state that has a federally-run Marketplace, I recommend you start at HealthCare.gov.

You don’t have to use the Marketplace to buy health insurance. If you are already covered, and your plan offers the minimum basic coverage, you can keep it. If you are uninsured, you can buy a plan from a private insurance company. The thing to keep in mind, though, is that the only way to be eligible for a subsidy that will help you to pay for the plan is if you sign up for it through a Marketplace.

Shawn and I are married, so it was not necessary for each of us to make an account at Covered California and begin the process of obtaining an affordable health plan. Shawn was able to fill in the blanks on the website for both of us.

There were some glitches. There were points when Shawn would click on the “continue” button, and the website would try to process for a while. Then, it would come back with an error code that was made up of some numbers.

When that happened, Shawn went back to the beginning of the section he was working on, and clicked through. Usually, the second time around, the website let him continue past the part where the error popped up. It took him about an hour to complete.

We both went to the appointment with the insurance brokers. They had organized a group meeting to get everyone up to speed about the Affordable Care Act and what the Marketplace offered. There were several laptops on the table for people to use to access Covered California (if they had not already made an account). We were able to skip that part, since Shawn had already completed that portion.

Our results were good. The insurance brokers determined that having Medicare Part A, without having Part B (or other parts) did not count as having health insurance coverage. We both were conditionally eligible for a subsidy. The subsidy is an advance on the tax return we would receive in 2014. It is used to help pay for a big portion of the cost of the premium on our new health plan.

We still have to fax and send out proof of income. We also have to pay our income tax on time (before April 15, 2014), in order to get the subsidy. And, obviously, we have to pay our portion of the monthly premium (and our portion of the co-pays).

Shawn and I selected a Silver Plan from Blue Shield. The plans are ranked: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum. Our plan covers all of the Preventative Care Benefits. Plans that don’t cover all of the preventative care benefits cannot be sold through the Marketplaces.

Overall results:

  • Previously, my health plan cost $160.00 a month. It only covered me – not Shawn. It was going to terminate as of January 1, 2014.
  • Shawn, for all realistic purposes, did not have any health insurance coverage.
  • Our new plan costs $171.00 a month. It covers both me and Shawn. It covers more than my original (and expiring) health plan did. We are able to afford it thanks to help from a subsidy.
  • The new plan kicks in on January 1, 2014.

We have another appointment scheduled with the insurance brokers. In it, we can ask questions about our new plan, and have them help “trouble shoot” whatever we may have problems with. We are also going to get their help in signing up for a new dental plan.

So, that’s our “Obamacare” story. It worked for us. It is working for plenty of other people, too. I am incredibly relieved to have access to an affordable health plan that actually covers a lot of important things.

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