Free insurance coverage? Many in SC might qualify

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Despite repeated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the law remains. But the clock is already ticking for those who wait to sign up.

This year, the enrollment period for healthcare coverage is only 45 days. Enrollment began Wednesday and ends Dec. 15.

Those who don't choose a plan by the deadline will either be automatically re-enrolled in their current plan, a similar one if theirs has been discontinued or if they fail to obtain coverage, face penalties.

Some states which run their own exchanges have extended the sign-up period, but South Carolina is not one of them. The Trump administration has taken steps to cut spending for so-called "navigators" who help customers understand their options.

Advertising has also been slashed and surveys show many consumers do not realize the enrollment period is far shorter. The Kaiser Family Foundation says only 25 percent of current enrollees know about the abbreviated enrollment schedule.

The organization also says President Trump's action to eliminate federal subsidy money or cost-sharing reductions to insurance companies has caused significantly higher premiums in many counties nationwide.

But the subsidy reductions have also triggered increased tax credits that could lower or eliminate premiums for many low-income enrollees.

Throughout South Carolina, tax credits for a 40-year-old person making $25,000 annually cover the full cost of the monthly premiums for the lowest-tier "bronze" plan.

In Richland and Lexington counties, Kaiser says enrollees who paid $111 monthly in 2017 will pay no costs in 2018. Qualified customers on that income level in Sumter, Orangeburg, Newberry and Fairfield counties could also receive free coverage.

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