Free clinic: Uninsured face penalties

The open enrollment period for health insurance provided through the Affordable Care Act ends Sunday, and the Shenandoah Community Health Clinic recommends area residents research their options before it’s too late.

Americans without health insurance could have to pay higher penalties than they might realize when they file their federal income taxes this year, said Pam Murphy, executive director of the clinic. She added penalties for next year will be even higher.

Murphy said many residents are aware of a $95 penalty for not having insurance in 2014, but she said they might not realize that it’s actually the higher of two options they’ll have to pay: Either $95 per person in their household ($47.50 per child under 18) with a maximum of $285, or 1 percent of their yearly household income.

The penalty applies to those earning above the tax filing threshold of about $10,000 for an individual, the website http://www.healthcare.gov explains.

At 1 percent, a family without health insurance earning $50,000 annually will owe $500 in penalties on its federal tax return, due by April 15.

Penalties increase every year a family doesn’t have insurance.

Those without health insurance after Feb. 15 will have to pay 2 percent, or $325 per person ($162.50 per child under 18) with a maximum of $975 when filing their 2015 taxes. In 2016, the penalty rises to 2.5 percent or $695 per person, and in coming years it will be adjusted for inflation.

“It is just so critical that people who don’t have health insurance … don’t wait until it’s too late,” Murphy said.

Residents who sign up on or before Sunday will escape next year’s penalties and also benefit from federal insurance subsidies that vary depending on household income.

To help the uninsured understand their options, the clinic will hold special appointment hours this week around the Northern Shenandoah Valley, and Murphy asked that those considering coming in to call ahead so they will know what required paperwork to bring. Residents should set aside one to two hours for their appointment.

Hours will be:

• 10 a.m.-3 p.m. today at Our Health Campus, 329 N. Cameron St., Winchester; or the Page Public Library, 100 Zerket St., Luray.

• 5-7:30 p.m. today at the Strasburg United Methodist Church, 114. W. Washington St., Strasburg.

• 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday at Samuels Public Library, 330 E. Criser Road, Front Royal.

• 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday at the Clarke County Library, 101 Chalmers Court, Berryville.

• 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at the Shenandoah Community Health Clinic, 124 Valley Vista Drive, Woodstock.

• Sunday by advance appointment only.

The free appointments were made possible through $180,000 in grant money the Virginia Community Healthcare Association gave the clinic through two grants in November and December. With that money, the clinic hired three individuals to help Northern Shenandoah Valley residents better understand their insurance and tax options.

The clinic has had a fair amount of interest in insurance assistance since the Nov. 15 open enrollment kickoff date, but Murphy said she expects a lot of confusion once area residents start filing their taxes and realize they owe penalties they didn’t see coming.

Even worse, if they haven’t signed up for insurance by then, it will be too late to prevent next year’s penalties.

“It’s really critical that they do it before Feb. 15,” Murphy said.

The Affordable Care Act offers exemptions of penalties to those whose income makes insurance unaffordable. A special enrollment period of 60 days is available following certain life events, such as marriage, the birth of a child or loss of other health coverage. Job-based plans must provide a special enrollment period of 30 days.

For information on the free sessions, call the Shenandoah Community Health Clinic at 540-459-1700 and ask for Eunice Terndrup.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com