I’m a 51-year-old woman, and I work part time at large retail store. Last year I made $8,000. I don’t have health insurance; when I get sick, I get free care at a local clinic. I’m worried about the requirement to have health insurance. There is simply no way I could possibly afford to buy health insurance, even if the government paid most of the bill. I can barely afford groceries! What am I supposed to do?
Making Ends Meet in Maine
Dear Making Ends Meet in Maine,
At $8,000, your income is below the threshold for having to file taxes. Therefore, health reform does not require you to have health insurance.
In fact, you would be turned away from the health insurance exchanges (also called “marketplaces”) because of your income. Only people earning between 133 and 400% of federal poverty can get subsidies to buy health insurance. Ironically, you would not qualify for government subsidies because your income is too low.
Health reform assumed that all states would offer Medicaid to people earning less than 133% of federal poverty. Indeed, some states will be doing this; Maine is not one of them. You can get Medicaid only if you meet the income requirements and you have a minor child living with you.
The free clinic is a great source for you. See Consumers for Affordable Health Care’s site for a directory of free and sliding-scale clinics in Maine. Another resource is the Maine Breast and Cervical Health Program, which would cover a mammogram and Pap test for you. If something terrible and expensive happened to you, you could apply to the hospital’s charity care program. If it were terrible enough, you would be considered disabled and therefore eventually qualify for Medicaid and Medicare.
I’m sorry to say that yours is the classic example of the gaps left open by health reform. Some uninsured people, like you, simply will not be helped by health reform.