NORTH ADAMS -- Numerous state-subsidized health insurance plans will be discontinued in early 2014 as the national Affordable Care Act goes into effect, but local residents on those plans won't be left without a lifeline.
Ecu-Health Care, a local nonprofit health care access organization, will be there to help Northern Berkshire residents and small businesses navigate the coming changes.
The organization, which has been connecting uninsured and underinsured residents with affordable health care for the last 18 years, was recently named as one of 10 Navigator sites by the Massa chusetts Health Connector.
"As the area's primary health care enrollment outreach site and a designated Navigator of health care reform, Ecu-Health Care is committed to making health reform successful in North Berkshire," said Charles "Chip" Joffe-Halpern, executive director of Ecu-Health Care, during a Monday news conference announcing the organization's designation.
Among the challenges the organization will face in the coming months, he said, is the need get the word out about the new health care opportunities that will be available, as well as the informing residents about the new income eligibility guidelines and providing the necessary assistance to ensure residents are enrolled in all the programs for which they qualify.
After Dec. 31, the state will eliminate Commonwealth Care, Mass Health Basic, MassHealth Essen tial, the Medical Insurance Plan and the Insurance Partnership as part of the changes being implemented under the Affordable Care Act.
Individuals enrolled in Com monwealth Care and who qualify for the new MassHealth programs, will be automatically transferred over.
For those who don't qualify for the new MassHealth programs, affordable coverage will be provided through the Massachusetts Health Connector.
Some 175,000 individuals and families, who are already enrolled in one of the programs slated for discontinuation, will need to reapply for coverage beginning Oct. 1. Open enrollment will end on March 31, 2014.
That's where Ecu-Health Care will step in -- providing one-on-one enrollment assistance for Northern Berkshire residents.
"With the onset of the Affordable Care Act and the major tsunami in terms of how that is going to affect the communities, the work Chip and his team does is going to be even more significant," Northern Berkshire Healthcare CEO Timothy Jones said.
According to Joffe-Halpern, new health care coverage programs that will become available to more residents under expanding income guidelines and through advance premium tax credits -- money paid directly to health insurance companies resulting in lower monthly premium payments for subscribers.
"Individuals and families with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level -- up to $45,960 for individuals and up to $94,200 for a family of four -- may qualify for advance premium tax credits," he said.
There will also be a small business employee premium assistance program for employees of businesses with 50 or fewer employees and a change to the way household incomes are calculated under the health care reform changes.
In addition to the challenge of re-enrolling nearly 175,000 individuals across the state before the March 31 deadline, the Massachusetts Health Connector is also hoping organizations like Ecu-Health Care will reach new segments of the population that will now qualify for subsidies under the new programs.
"The expansion from 300 percent to 400 percent [of the federal poverty level] will capture a lot of new people," Massachusetts Health Connector Communications Dir ector Jason Lefferts said during the announcement. "Those are people who really don't ever qualify for anything and just always seem to just miss out. Some of them who have come to the Health Connector in the past -- gone through the process to see if they qualify for a subsidy -- may have just missed out by $200. Many of them, instead of buying health insurance, may have opted just to take the penalty at the end of the year."
For more information, contact Ecu-Health Care at 413-663-8711. More information can also be found online at http://MAhealth connector.org.