Nearly 337,000 Oklahomans will be eligible for tax credits next year that will help them pay for health insurance premiums, according to a report released Wednesday.
However, most people who qualify for the tax credits don't know what they are or that they qualify.
Families USA released a report Wednesday that found that most Oklahomans who will be eligible for premium tax credits, or about 90 percent, will be in working families.
Statewide, about 302,000 people — the majority of Oklahomans who will be eligible for premium tax credits — will be in families with a worker who is employed, either full- or part-time, according to the organization's report.
The organization dubs itself as a national health consumer organization and advocates for the expansion of Medicaid, one of the key elements of the federal Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”
Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA, called these tax credit subsidies a game-changer.
“They will make health coverage affordable for huge numbers of uninsured families who would have been priced out of the health coverage and care they need,” he said during a news conference.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has created a website, www.healthcare.gov, that has extensive information about tax credits and other aspects of the Affordable Care Act.
In October of this year, the enrollment process will begin for health insurance marketplaces, which are also part of the Affordable Care Act. People who are uninsured, need insurance for a small business or want to explore their insurance options can use the marketplace to find different health insurance options.
During the enrollment process, you will also find out whether you qualify for tax credits. Once you enroll in a qualified health plan through the marketplace, you can control how much of your tax credit you want to use to help pay your monthly health plan premiums, according to Health and Human Services.
The tax credit is sent directly to your insurance company and applied to your premium, according to the federal health agency. The tax credits will be determined on a sliding scale based on income, according to Families USA.
In November, Gov. Mary Fallin announced Oklahoma would not expand its Medicaid program or create its own health care exchange, meaning Oklahomans will enroll through a federally created exchange. These were two of the key elements of the Affordable Care Act.
David Blatt, the Oklahoma Policy Institute director, said because Oklahoma isn't expanding its Medicaid program, this leaves a “coverage crater” between the people who qualify for Medicaid and the people who qualify for the tax credits.
Also, because many people don't know what the tax credits are or how to enroll, there's a lot of public education that needs to be done, he said.
It's not likely that the state will use many resources to promote enrolling in the exchange or how to find out whether a person qualifies for tax credits.
“It's going to be complicated here in Oklahoma where we have an insurance department that is not cooperating and we have an attorney general who is suing trying to prevent these 330,000 people from getting premium assistance that they're entitled to,” Blatt said. “So we have to be realistic and recognize that it's not like state government is going to be mobilizing its resources to make sure Oklahomans benefit from the Affordable Care Act, and I think that's quite frankly a pity.”
Kelly Collins, state Insurance Department spokeswoman, said she doesn't anticipate that the agency will promote enrolling in the exchange.
She said at this time, the agency isn't sure what it will do regarding educating people on how to access tax credits. However, residents are always welcome to call the consumer assistance line for help.
“If we don't have the answer, we'll find out who does,” she said.