By Mindy Waite

On January 28th, SMADC held a public forum for farmers and local insurance and Affordable Care Act (ACA) experts to discuss insurance implications for Maryland farmers. Panelists said that the Affordable Care Act goes into effect on January 1, 2014 and will require all individuals to have health insurance or pay a fee. Additionally, the ACA requires employers with 51 employees or more to provide employee health insurance, although “seasonal workers” are exempt from the count. To read notes from the meeting, click here.

Individuals looking for health insurance can compare insurance options through privateinsurance brokers, the public exchange (Maryland Health Benefit Exchange), or directly through insurance companies. Jay Duke and Joseph Blouin, both local insurance brokers, suggested that going through a broker can be useful for identifying a “best-fit” plan. Mr. Saquella also mentioned that public workers known as “Connectors” will be available to help Maryland residents identify a best-fit plan through the Maryland Exchange.

Depending on your income, you may be eligible for health insurance subsidies through the Maryland Exchange. Specifically, the government created financial subsidies from 133% ($7.25/hour) up to 400% ($21.50/hour) of the federal poverty line, within which you can get sliding help for insurance costs. Additionally, small business owners providing health insurance for their employees through the Exchange may receive some tax credits.

Importantly, insurance companies will no longer be able to turn away individuals due to pre-existing conditions. As such, the Affordable Care Act fixes the issue of accessibility. Panelists warned, however, that the Act does not fix the issue of affordability. In fact, because individuals with pre-existing conditions will be able to join the health insurance pool, insurance prices are likely to increase, although they were not sure how much.

Panelists were very careful to note that their responses may change due to changes to the law or regulatory interpretations by various Federal and State agencies concerning healthcare reform. To stay up-to-date with the latest info, keep an eye out for SMADC’s next health insurance forum in the spring!