By Lilly Milman

The deadline is approaching for Americans to sign up for health care insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and Skagway’s Dahl Memorial Clinic has scheduled two sessions to assist people in applying: 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7, and noon to 1 p.m. Dec. 12.

The deadline to sign up for 2020 coverage is Dec. 15 under the federally funded program that helps subsidize insurance premiums for qualifying families and individuals. The amount of the subsidy is based on income.

The ACA is in its sixth year, despite numerous political attempts to end or weaken its reach.

The Skagway clinic’s John Hischer and Melanie Hampton will serve as “navigators,” helping people to fill out the forms. Both are ACA-certified application counselors and can help people compare the different health care plans and explain terms like deductible, copay and tax credit.

Those looking to sign up don’t need to bring any paperwork with them, although they may be required to mail in documents or upload them online at a later date. Applicants will need to provide an estimate of their annual household income.

First-time applicants will need to set up an account with healthcare.gov when they come in.

Congress last year removed the tax penalty for failing to carry health insurance. But the benefits of Affordable Care Act coverage tend to outweigh the cost, Hampton said. This is especially true in a town like Skagway, where serious injuries or illnesses may require expensive transportation and care out of town.

“The plan with the highest maximum out-of-pocket fee (the highest amount a person must pay after a deductible) is $7,800,” Hampton said. “So, if someone were to have an accident and have to get medivaced to Juneau, you’re going hit your maximum just on your flight out there. After you meet that maximum, that’s all you’re responsible for. Your insurance will pay the rest.”

Most plans available in Alaska also offer routine or preventative dental coverage, as well.

In addition, if someone with coverage goes to a federally qualified clinic like Dahl, it’s also possible to qualify for a sliding-scale reduced fee. If a person qualifies for the lowest payment on the scale, then the maximum they will need to pay for a visit at the clinic is $20. This also applies for a visit to the clinic when the dentist is in town.

“It’s a lot less expensive to have it and not need it than not have it and you have to get sent out somewhere,” Hampton said.

The clinic is also offering to help anyone interested in Medicare — which primarily offers health care coverage to those 65 years and older — sign up through the open enrollment period, which ends Dec. 7.

Anyone with questions should call or stop by the clinic, or to set up an appointment for help with ACA coverage outside of the two scheduled workshops call 983-2255, extension 4.