Liz Higgins serves as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with the Missoula-based Montana Campus Compact, a group that places young do-gooders with community organizations across the state. In December, Higgins says she received an email from the Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs the AmeriCorps program, announcing that her health benefit plan does not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. The email said she had three options: return to her parents' health plan if she is under 26 (which she is not), buy a new plan on the health insurance exchange, or keep her AmeriCorps-sponsored plan and pay a $95 fine.
She chose the third option because it's the most affordable.
"I know a lot of members that are kind of worried about what they are going to do because our monthly stipend isn't very much," Higgins says. "I think about the VISTA volunteers everyday. To some, the $95 fee is a lot and we get a very small monthly living allowance. ... It's rather unfortunate. It makes me sad."
AmeriCorps members across the state and country are facing a shifting health care landscape because many of the traditional AmeriCorps and VISTA health plans do not meet the ACA's standards. According to the CNCS, more than 1,300 AmeriCorps members served in Montana as of March 2013.
Dean McGovern, executive director of Montana Campus Compact, currently oversees 20 VISTA members in Montana. He worries that the changes will impact volunteer recruitment.
"If they are penalized for not being covered in accordance with the law then they will suffer financial burden, which will hurt the current members and disincentivize people from volunteering in the future," he says. "It will be harder to get people to step up and serve their community and their country if we can't get them the health care coverage that the new health law dictates."
Along with other AmeriCorps program managers in the state, McGovern says he is petitioning the CNCS to offer a plan to AmeriCorps members that complies with the new health care law.