VITA Programs and the Affordable Care Act

Why should VITA programs be involved in health reform enrollment?

  • The vast majority of people who are eligible for services through VITA are also eligible for free health care through Medicaid or tax credits to help pay the cost of private health insurance premiums.
  • The majority of the application asks about households and income, mostly defined in the same way as the tax return. VITA volunteers are more prepared than most health care assisters to answer these questions.
  • If taxpayers don’t enroll in health insurance, they may owe a penalty on next year’s tax return.

What role can you play?

VITA volunteers have the tax knowledge necessary to complete most of the application.  The application begins with questions about household and income to determine eligibility for Medicaid or premium tax credits. Then information is verified against tax and wage databases and eligibility is determined. This might happen instantaneously or verification might take several days. Finally, the taxpayer is asked to select a health plan.

Options to help people enroll: 

      • Seek formal designation as a Certified Application Counselor (CAC).  To become a CAC, your organization must file the necessary forms to become certified and designated volunteers must complete an online training course/test expected to take approximately 4-hours. This training prepares your organization to assist with the application (a single application for Medicaid and premium tax credits), including plan selection. Click here for more information.
      • Provide informal assistance with eligibility and plan selection.  A variety of trainings are available. The CAC training can be helpful in learning the material. (Note that anyone can take the CAC training, but volunteers can only call themselves CACs if they are affiliated with a CAC-designated organization.)  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also has a webinar training series that help volunteers understand how Medicaid and the premium tax credits work.
            • CBPP’s National Tax Credit Outreach Campaign also presented a webinar which explores opportunities to help people with their health coverage enrollment and specific actions organizations can take with clients. 
      • Provide informal assistance with eligibility only.  A short training can give experienced tax volunteers the information they need to provide competent assistance to clients who want to find out if they are eligible for Medicaid or premium tax credits. For those who are eligible, clients can be referred to other health care assisters for plan selection or proceed on their own online.
            • Presentation slides with notes available here.
      • Screen and refer.  VITA programs, at a minimum, should screen participants to find out if they have health insurance. A short training can explain to volunteers the importance of having health insurance, the new programs that are available, and the penalty a taxpayer may face for failing to have health insurance.