Health Watch/Western U.P. Health Department/Ray Sharp, Public Health Planner, Data Analyst

One health care door closed this week but another door opened. On March 31, the initial enrollment period ended for choosing Affordable Care Act marketplace plans, private health insurance plans for people with household incomes above 133 percent of the federal poverty index. Then, on April 1, enrollment opened for the Healthy Michigan Plan, an expansion of Medicaid also funded under the Affordable Care Act, the federal health program commonly known as Obamacare.

The Healthy Michigan Plan is a new program designed for low-income Michigan residents. Nearly half a million Michigan adults under age 65 will be eligible for Healthy Michigan coverage. Note that Medicare, the federal health insurance program for senior citizens, is a different program not directly affected by this Medicaid expansion.

Before Obamacare, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 residents of Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw, Gogebic and Ontonagon counties had no health insurance, based on a survey conducted by Western U.P. Health Department in July 2012. Roughly half of those people now qualify for the Healthy Michigan Plan, many after years or even decades of not being able to afford regular medical care and preventive health services.

The Healthy Michigan Plan covers those who make up to 133 percent of the poverty level. That works out to roughly $16,000 a year for one person or $33,000 for a family of four. The program covers everything from doctor visits and hospitalizations to prescriptions and dental care.

Healthy Michigan includes most benefits associated with traditional health insurance plans at a more affordable cost, based on household income. Those who make between 100 and 133 percent of the federal poverty level will contribute up to 2 percent of their income to a health savings account, which can be used to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses. The plan offers incentives for healthy behaviors such as losing weight, quitting smoking, and getting a flu shot.

The 10 essential health benefits covered in the Healthy Michigan Plan are ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder treatment services including behavioral health treatment, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services and devices, laboratory services, preventative and wellness services and chronic disease management, and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.

There are several ways for Michigan residents to enroll in the Healthy Michigan Plan:

Apply online at www.HealthyMichiganPlan.org.

Apply by phone at (855) 789-5610.

Visit your local Department of Human Services office.

Call your nearest health department office to make an appointment for application assistance. The health department has offices in Hancock (482-7382), Bessemer (667-0200), L’Anse (524-6142), and Ontonagon (884-4485).

To learn more about the Western U.P. Health Department or to view its 2013 annual report on local public health services, finances and community assessment data, visit the health department web site, www.wuphd.org.

Editor’s Note: Ray Sharp is a public health planner and data analyst at Western U.P. Health Department in Hancock.