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Green-card holders are included in the Affordable Care Act

If you're already a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. or want to become one, you should know that you're covered by the Affordable Care Act, which provides access to health insurance through public exchanges and, in many cases, offers government subsidies to buy it. Although the federal government shutdown seems to be an effort to stop the ACA (sometimes called "Obamacare"), the fact is that enrollment for insurance offered through the ACA has already begun, and coverage begins Jan. 1.

Even with the government shutdown, you can still sign up for Affordable Care Act health insurance in New York, because our state has implemented the online insurance exchange, called New York State of Health, where you can shop for a plan. The website is www.nystateofhealth.ny.gov.

Immigrants become eligible for coverage -- and any available subsidies -- through the ACA as soon as they become lawful permanent residents (green-card holders). A key part of the ACA is to make health insurance affordable for everyone, so the federal government is offering financial assistance for those with lower incomes.

The subsides vary by income, but may qualify for help if your household income is 400 percent of the federal poverty rate or less. That means that a single New Yorker would typically qualify for subsidies if he or she makes up to $45,960, while a family of four could make up to $95,200 and qualify. If you make less than 138 percent of the federal poverty rate, you may qualify for Medicaid instead, if you've been a green card holder for five years.

According to statistics cited by the New York Daily News, the average plan through the ACA is expected to cost 53 percent less than the same plan, purchased on the individual market, cost before the new law was passed.

Green card holders should also be aware that the penalty provision in the Affordable Care Act also applies to permanent residents. The ACA requires you to have health insurance by April 1, 2014, or pay a penalty. In 2014, the penalty is $95 or 1 percent of your income, whichever is higher, but the penalties go up each year until 2016.

You don't have to buy the required health insurance through the ACA exchange -- if you have Medicaid, health insurance through your job, or private, comprehensive insurance you like, you won't owe any penalty.

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