Got healthcare insurance? The new, earlier deadline for getting health insurance that’s available on or off the federal exchange — that is, from healthcare.gov or private carriers — is fast approaching.
The enrollment or re-enrollment period for the coming year used to be Jan. 31 but was moved up six weeks by the Trump administration to Dec. 15. Policies sold during the present open enrollment period start on Jan. 1.
If you miss the deadline, the next open enrollment period is a year from now.
Almost everyone who needs insurance is aware of the deadline change, but it is causing a lot of extra work, says Greg White, owner of Reinholdt & O’Harra Insurance of Ashland. This is compounded by the fact that, essentially, all insurers but one, Moda, have stopped carrying individual health insurance in the valley (Providence still offers individual plans through the marketplace but on a very limited basis).
White and Sue Carney of Ashland Insurance say they’ve been informing people of the new deadline in local advertisements, but, says Carney, those already enrolled will be automatically re-enrolled unless they intervene before the deadline.
“However,” she adds, “it’s good to ask people to shop around because the federal subsidies are higher than usual this year and you may be able to get a better plan for the same amount of money.”
The agencies of White and Carney are listed on the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace as “partner agents,” who get a grant to do extra outreach and consumer assistance based on their “professional excellence and deep community roots.” The two Ashland-based agencies are the only ones so listed in Jackson County.
“It’s creating a heavier workload,” says White. “Most people recognize the deadline is soon, so they are coming in and taking care of their insurance for 2018. The (deadline change) was a signature move from the Trump administration. The whole health insurance industry is changing every year so every year we have to wait and see and work with it.”
When clients call, White says he advises they come in, learn about changes and see how they can take advantage of them. Insurance is sold at gold, silver or bronze levels, depending on the deductible and premiums.
The biggest difference from last year, White adds, is the number of insurers in the individual marketplace. “Blue Cross and Pacific Source are gone here … it’s compounded by the fact that essentially all insurers but one, Moda, have either left Jackson County or priced themselves out of the market … There were six or seven a few years ago. This is not unusual, as 48 percent of counties now have only one in the individual market.”
It’s a complex and expensive process, but, says Carney, the deadline shift was because of political considerations. “The idea was to get people off the rolls and make it harder to get on the rolls … and it’s in the new tax bill to take out the individual mandate (requiring individuals to buy insurance or pay a penalty)."
Some clients, who tend to be younger and in good health, are opting to skip insurance and just pay the penalty for it, says White.
On healthcare.gov, its home page offers links to start a new account, update your account and compare plans for 2018 or preview 2018 plans with price estimates based on your income, before you log in.
While insurers and the government have saturated the country with warnings about the new deadline, says Carney, some will inevitably miss it and learn the hard way.
"If you haven't focused on your health insurance yet, now is the time to do it," said Chiqui Flowers, administrator of the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace. "A licensed insurance agent or an expert from a certified community group can help you enroll, and their assistance is free."
You can find insurance agencies and organizations offering free enrollment help at OregonHealthCare.gov/gethelp.
The state marketplace says to check on healthcare.gov to see if you qualify for subsidies, even if you did not qualify last year. The income qualifications adjust upward each year, and rising premiums can mean greater assistance for those who qualify for subsidies.
Even though you expect to be re-enrolled, “that works as a backup plan. There may be plans that are better for you and your budget. Prices and benefits change each year, and your income or household size may have changed, too. Log on your HealthCare.gov account, update your information, and look at the 2018 plans to find the best fit for you or your family,” says the state website.
The Marketplace, the state-level partner to HealthCare.gov, can answer general questions about enrollment and connect people to in-person enrollment assistance. Call 1-855-268-3767 or visit OregonHealthCare.gov.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.