CHAMPAIGN — More than 957,000 people in Illinois will be eligible for tax credits to help pay for health coverage next year, according to a national health care consumers organization.
In a report released Thursday morning, Families USA looked at county data and found 15,500 people in Champaign County would be able to use new tax credits to reduce the cost of health coverage that will be available starting next year in a new state marketplace to purchase health plans.
The marketplace is being established under the Affordable Care Act that is requiring nearly everyone to have health coverage starting next year or pay a penalty.
A six-month enrollment for the marketplace is set to begin Oct. 1.
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said the tax credits will be a "game changer" that will help make health coverage affordable for those who have been priced out of the market.
The tax credits will be determined on a sliding scale, with the highest credits going to those with the lowest incomes, he said.
"The more help you need, the more you're going to receive," he said.
The credits will be paid directly to the health plans people choose to reduce their premium payments, Pollack said.
Tax credits will be available to help pay for coverage for those with incomes from 139 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
For one person, eligibility would be an income between $15,860 and $45,960 in 2013.
A family of four would be eligible with a 2013 income ranging from $32,500 to $94,200.
"What you can tell from that is, this reaches deeply into the middle class and it will certainly help people with a moderate income," Pollack said.
The health care law assumes the neediest uninsured — those with incomes at 138 percent of the federal poverty level or below — will be enrolled in the Medicaid program.
Families USA says it made its projections for tax credits assuming Illinois will take advantage of the opportunity to expand Medicaid to include all state residents with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
The Medicaid expansion will be fully funded by the federal government for the first three years, but over the next seven years, federal support for the expansion gradually decrease to 90 percent.
"We still are feeling very optimistic and very positive that the Medicaid expansion will end up passing before the General Assembly leaves," said Jim Duffett, executive director of Illinois-based Campaign for Better Health Care.
Duffett said the number of people who stand to receive help through tax credits throughout Illinois isn't small.
"It is historic that nearly a million Illinoisans are going to be eligible for some kind of premium assistance through the ACA (Affordable Care Act)," he said.
The Families USA report divided Illinois into 31 census areas to project who would qualify for tax credits, with several counties in some census areas.
For example, in Ford, Iroquois, Livingston and Vermilion counties, 13,510 total people would be eligible for health insurance tax credits, according to the report.
In Coles, Cumberland, Douglas and Edgar counties, 9,660 total people would be eligible.
In Christian, DeWitt, Moultrie, Piatt and Shelby counties, 7,600 people would be eligible.
Some other findings in the report:
— 85 percent of those who qualify for tax credits in Illinois live in working families.
— People who have incomes of 200 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($47,100 to $94,200 for a family of four) will make up about 56.5 percent of all those in Illinois eligible for tax credits to help pay for coverage.
— Among those eligible for tax credits, about 55 percent will be white and non-Hispanic; about 14 percent will be black and non-Hispanic; about 24 percent will be Hispanic.
— The largest age group for eligibility is young adults 18-34, with 38 percent of Illinois residents that age eligible. The smallest age group for eligibility is 55 and older, with 11.8 percent of people that age expected to be eligible.