Help with taxes - and health insurance

At the Campaign for Working Families, Mary Arthur (left) talks with Anastasia Gelashvilli about health care.
At the Campaign for Working Families, Mary Arthur (left) talks with Anastasia Gelashvilli about health care. (COURTNEY MARABELLA / Staff)
Posted: February 09, 2014

Anastasia Gelashvilli wanted to get to her taxes done when she walked into the Campaign for Working Families at 1207 Chestnut St. on Tuesday. And she left several hours later with a finished return.

But the 25-year-old woman from Northeast Philadelphia also came away with an appointment with an Affordable Care Act navigator to buy health insurance.

"My income isn't that high to get medical insurance," said Gelashvilli, 25, a recent Russian immigrant who works full-time in a family-owned clothing shop downtown. "I just don't get sick very often."

Gelashvilli is one of 2,500 people that the group hopes to help during tax season who need insurance or don't like their current plan and could find a better one on the marketplace. So the campaign has teamed with Enroll America, a nonprofit, to help those people buy insurance through the federal marketplace.

"Enroll America gets the reference and puts the person in touch with a navigator," said Mary Arthur, the campaign's director.

She said many of the campaign's clients haven't taken advantage of the law because they don't know enough about it. Some don't have a computer at home or don't know where to go for help signing up. Still others have gone to a navigator but haven't enrolled because they didn't bring all the necessary documentation.

Many people will pay a tax penalty next year if they don't have insurance this year.

All these factors make tax season a perfect time to get signed up.

"The great thing is that we have all their documentation," Arthur said. If someone is insured, "it gives us the opportunity to see what they are paying and if they can do better" on the exchange.

For 12 years, the campaign has been preparing tax returns for individuals making up to $20,000 a year and families making up to $52,000. The service is free.

This year, with 18 sites across the city - including a big one on Chestnut Street and one in Northeast Philadelphia - the campaign expects to file up to 20,000 returns. About 4,000 will come from the Chestnut Street office.

From January 24, the first day the Internal Revenue Service will accept a return, the hallway to the campaign's fourth floor offices is often crammed with people clutching their tax information. Each person is pre-screened to ensure they have the right documentation. They are asked to fill out a 25-question form that asks such questions as "Do you have health insurance?", "Are you happy with it?", and "Do you need health insurance?"

The campaign's tax preparers make a point of explaining that anyone who is eligible for insurance but isn't covered by March 31, will have to pay a penalty of one percent of their income or $95 a month during the first year, whichever is greater.

"I try to explain to them that if they don't have insurance or don't buy it, their [next year's] return will go to pay the penalty," said Donna Maragh, the group's operations manager.

But not everyone is forthcoming about their coverage, said Maragh, especially many for whom English is a second language.

"We're still trying to educate people . . . that this is an opportunity to get medical coverage and not a way to track you," Maragh said.

Gelashvilli said she feared that applying on the exchange might somehow endanger her legal status. Maragh assured the soft-spoken Gelashvilli, who immigrated in 2011, it would not. So she agreed to apply.

She knows that having health insurance is critical. It's just that neither she, nor her husband Ilia, a self-employed construction worker, make enough to pay for it.

Recently, however, Ilia, 31, developed a skin infection and had to go to an emergency room. Because it was a skin infection, he didn't need a full workup. Still, the couple had to pay $150 on a credit card, she said.

"It was a little thing with just the doctor looking at him," Gelashvilli said. "I can't imagine if he had to have surgery or something bigger."


This article was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health-policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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