Affordable Care Act: Some low-income folks will stay uninsured

“I’m 59 years old and was in a training program for older workers Title V. It ended October 4 2013. The only income I have is food stamps. How do I get health insurance?”   

Wondering in Tennessee

Dear Wondering in Tennessee,

Sorry to say, the answer is you probably won’t get health insurance.  Tennessee is not “expanding” Medicaid.  So, as an able-bodied, low-income person, you do not qualify for Medicaid.  You also cannot get subsidies to get health insurance from the exchange (also called “marketplace”).  It may seem odd, but the way the law works, people with income below 100% of Federal Poverty do not get help to buy a health insurance plan.


This does not mean that you need to go without medical care, however.  You would almost certainly qualify for your local hospital’s charity care programs.  Go to the hospital and ask for the Patient Assistance office; they will have application forms and information for you.  You can also find free or sliding scale clinics nearby.  Your current doctor’s office, if you have one, may be willing to help you with a payment plan or referral to a free clinic.  If you need prescription drugs, you can go to the drug maker’s website to find their charity and discount programs.

Many health economists believe that eventually, all states will expand Medicaid.  In the meantime, try to get the medical care that you need.

If there is any good news, it is that you will not be charged any penalty for being uninsured.  As long as your income is below the tax-filing threshold, you escape the individual mandate.

Linda Riddell

About Linda Riddell

A published author and health policy analyst with 25 years’ experience, Linda Riddell's goal is to alleviate the widespread ailment of not knowing what your health plan can do for you.