ACA enrollment is on through Dec. 15; sign up early for assistance and compare plans, experts advise

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By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Sign up early, make sure you compare costs and plans and make an early appointment with your “application assister.”

That was the advice given on an Oct. 31 Kaiser Family Foundation webinar offering open enrollment advice to consumers in Kentucky, as well as in Tennessee and Virginia.

Open enrollment began Nov. 1 for 2018 health insurance plans sold on Healthcare.gov and ends Dec. 15, half as long as in previous years.

“Consumers should start this process early this year,” said Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the foundation. “Waiting to the final week of open enrollment is risky.”

In addition to the shorter enrollment period, Tolbert said it’s important to enroll early because there is no guarantee the federal government will extend the enrollment date for those who have started the application process prior to Dec. 15, as they have in the past.

Also, the federal government has announced that the Healthcare.gov website will be shut down every Sunday from noon to midnight Eastern Time (except Dec. 10) for maintenance, the foundation reports.

It’s also important to pay attention to any mail, text messages, phone calls and emails you get about open enrollment, because this is how the state’s health agency is spreading the word about open enrollment this year. The state no longer gets federal funds for advertising or outreach.
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The webinar also reminded Kentuckians that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is still the law. “The law has not been repealed or replaced. Individuals must have health insurance in 2018 or risk paying a tax penalty,” the Kaiser foundation said.

The penalty for not having health insurance in 2018 is $695 per adult and $347.50 per child, with a maximum of $2,085 per family or 2.5 percent of the household’s income.

The 80,000 or so Kentuckians who have a plan through the federal exchange will automatically be re-enrolled into the most similar plan available, but the foundation and other experts advise them to make sure they are happy with their re-enrollment plan, because they won’t be able to change it in January, as they have in the past.

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In Kentucky, Anthem Inc. is offering plans in 59 counties and CareSource is in the other 61.

The webinar also urged consumers to compare plans and costs, since they have changed since last year.

About 80 percent of Kentuckians enrolled on the exchange will qualify for a tax credit or subsidy to reduce their monthly premiums, and because the credits are calculated to offset premium increases, the cost of insurance in 2018 will be about the same, according to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The Kaiser foundation also cautioned that while many will qualify for a “bronze” plan with a very low premium or no premium at all, it’s important to look at the whole plan because these low or no-cost plans have very high deductibles and co-pays.

The foundation encouraged the remaining 20 percent of Kentuckians who don’t qualify for any help and will likely see large increases in their premiums to look at plans off the exchange, because they could be less expensive.

Assisters are available in every Kentucky county to help people sign up for coverage, and their services are free. They will also be offering sign-up events throughout the state.

The webinar encouraged individuals to schedule an appointment with their assister early, noting the shortened sign-up period and that spots traditionally fill up quickly during the last week of enrollment.

To find an event in your county or an assister, go to healthbenefitexchange.ky.gov. The site also includes net payment examples for all regions of the state and 2018 sample scenarios for individuals and families.

Help is also available through the state call center at 858-459-6328 and the Healthcare.gov customer center at 800-318-2596, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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