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Kokua Line: Official sees health-care discounts for thousands in Hawaii under American Rescue Plan

Question: I heard that the new stimulus law pays more health insurance. Is this retroactive? How do we get it?

Answer: The American Rescue Plan Act should lower health insurance costs for thousands of people in Hawaii by subsidizing continuation coverage for up to six months after a person is laid off and making more people eligible to buy subsidized insurance on the Health Insurance Marketplace, according to the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs’ Insurance Division. Neither provision is retroactive in terms of the coverage dates, but people laid off as long ago as November 2019 could benefit moving forward.

“Some COBRA enrollees may see premiums drop to zero. Some Marketplace enrollees are likely eligible for new or larger subsidies and our uninsured population may be eligible for new Marketplace subsidies and possibly free premiums. I urge them to visit HealthCare.gov starting April 1 to see if they now qualify when they didn’t before or if they now qualify for lower-cost plans,” state Insurance Commissioner Colin M. Hayashida said in a recent news release.

The news release described key provisions:

>> ARP provides for a 100% COBRA subsidy for up to six months from April 1 through Sept. 30, for anyone who lost health coverage because of involuntary termination or involuntary reduction in hours on or after Nov. 1, 2019. “Employers and plan administrators will determine and notify eligible individuals and their dependents by May 31,” the news release said.

COBRA stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, and allows people to continue their workplace group health coverage for a limited time after being laid off. The former employee usually has to pay the entire premium for what’s known as COBRA or continuation coverage, which is why this ARP provision is welcome by many.

Under the new law, eligible employees who did not buy COBRA coverage when they lost their job, or those who did but whose coverage has since ended, will get to apply for subsidized COBRA coverage. This coverage will not be retroactive to the date coverage was lost.

>> The ARP also increases the U.S. premium tax credit, which is a refundable credit that helps eligible people pay premiums for health insurance they buy through the Health Insurance Marketplace, HealthCare.gov. “The new law increases the premium tax credit for most consumers by reducing the share of income consumers contribute to premiums and by removing the upper income limit. This will extend Affordable Care Act subsidies to higher-income individuals who do not currently qualify for 2021 and 2022, and increase ACA subsidies for lower-income individuals who already qualify for 2021 and 2022,” according to the news release. People may buy insurance for the first time during a special enrollment period, or update their plans April 1 or later to see if they qualify for bigger discounts. See healthcare.gov/more-savings/

Q: Where do the tiers stand on working from home?

A: Remote working, also known as teleworking, is encouraged at Oahu business offices during all four tiers of Honolulu County’s pandemic-era reopening strategy. Oahu currently sits at Tier 3. See details at one oahu.org/reopening-strategy.

Q: Are satellite city halls open without an appointment?

A: A few are, for limited services. The Ala Moana, Kapalama, Kapolei, Pearlridge, Wahiawa and Windward City satellite city halls office all have opened express windows, with no appointment needed for transactions such as uncomplicated motor vehicle registration renewal, bus pass sales, water bill and property tax payments, spay/neuter certificates and disability parking permits, according to Honolulu’s Department of Customer Services. Driver’s license and state ID transactions are not included. Walk-in service is not available at the Downtown, Hawaii Kai or Waianae satellite city halls.

Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email kokualine@staradvertiser.com.

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