Obamacare Operators Are Standing By!

Well, they will be as of July 1—that’s when every state will open its own call center to field questions about how you get coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

‘People are confused about the basics of health reform,’ says Carrie McLean of eHealthInsurance.com, which gets many questions about the Affordable Care Act. (Getty Images/Jon Feingersh)

May 31, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Fran Kritz is a freelance writer specializing in health and health policy and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

When brand-new call centers open next month across the country to answer questions about how to get health insurance under Obamacare, Seth Ginsberg, 31, founder and manager of the arthritis community site CreakyJoints, expects the people working at the centers to be very, very busy. Ginsberg is already getting plenty of questions about healthcare reform on his site: One user in her 30s, for example, reached out to ask if the new health insurance plans will still cover the expensive injectable drugs she uses to ease her arthritis pain.

She definitely isn’t alone. Although just about all Americans will be expected to sign up for health insurance coverage that begins on January 1, 2014, millions still have plenty of questions about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and what it means for them.

Here’s what you need to know: By July 1, the call centers—which will operate in all 50 states—should open. Many states are already trying to fill openings for operators to take people’s calls and answer their questions. (Let’s hope those slots are filled, and people are trained in time, since signing up for health coverage is not so simple.) So far, there has been no announcement from the Department of Health & Human Services, which oversees the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, about a single toll-free number—a la 1-800-Obamacare (don’t call that; it’s not a real number)—that would route callers directly to the call center in their state. If you want to look now for the call center in your state, you can try a state government site; a state or local health department site; or Google “ACA call center” plus your state’s name.

eHealthInsurance.com, an online insurance vendor, fields hundreds of thousands of calls every year, and may be a bellwether for the types of questions that the ACA call centers can expect. Carrie McLean, senior manager of call centers for the site, says that, depending on the day and news reports, calls relating to the ACA can range from 10 to 50 percent of the phone queries they get. “People are confused about the basics of health reform. They’re generally not clear on which provisions of the law are in effect and which aren’t,” says McLean. “They want to know if they’re required to have coverage, where to buy it, how much their coverage is going to cost, and whether there is a free health insurance option available.”

Here are some common questions that eHealthInsurance gets—check out the answers to see if they address any that are on your mind, too:

Q: Am I required to have health insurance in 2014?

A: Most individuals will be required to have major medical health insurance coverage in 2014. Those who don’t are likely to have to pay a penalty.

Q: What are the tax penalties for not having health insurance in 2014?

A: The tax penalties start small in 2014 and increase over time. In 2014, the penalty will be the greater of 1.0% of taxable income, or $95 per adult and $47.50 per child (up to $285 per family). After 2016, the penalty will be increased annually according to the increase to the cost-of-living.

Q: Does the Affordable Care Act require small employers to pay a tax if they don’t offer health insurance to employees?

A: No. Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees (or the equivalent in part-time workers) are not required to provide health insurance to their employees. And those employers will not face tax penalties if they decide not to offer their employees health insurance.

What questions do you have about Obamacare and getting insurance?