A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Deadline to sign up for insurance on Healthcare.gov is Dec. 15, but most Americans don’t know

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

With just two weeks left to sign up for federally subsidized health insurance for 2019, time is running out. The deadline for open enrollment on Healthcare.gov is Dec. 15, and fewer Kentuckians have enrolled compared to the same time last year.

Four weeks into the six-week enrollment period, Kentucky enrollment on the federal exchange is 22,565. That is 5,414 fewer than the 27,979 who had enrolled by that time last year. Nationally, 356,347 fewer people have signed up. These numbers only reflect people who have signed up for a new plan or who have actively chosen a plan; those who already have plans on Healthcare.gov and don’t choose a new one will be automatically re-enrolled, and those numbers haven’t yet been included in the enrollment reports.

“Last year, just under half of the signups came in the final week due to auto-enrollment,” Dustin Pugel, a research and policy analyst for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said in an e-mail. “So I have no reason to expect we won’t see a big jump again this year the week of Dec. 15.”

That said, Pugel cautioned that he is uncertain how the enrollment numbers will end up, noting that while the marketing and outreach budgets were cut, open enrollment got a lot of free publicity last year because Congress debated repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, from January to early October.

“This year, open enrollment is neither getting the free attention nor the paid outreach and marketing, so I am concerned that many who qualify won’t end up getting coverage because they don’t realize they qualify for financial assistance, or that the open enrollment period is short (again),” Pugel said.

The open enrollment period originally lasted last three months, but the Trump administration shortened it last year to 45 days.

Most people don’t know the deadline is looming.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll taken Nov. 14-19, only one-fourth of people aged 18 to 64 who buy their own health insurance, or are uninsured, knew that the last day to purchase health insurance on Healthcare.gov is Dec. 15.

Sixty-one percent said they didn’t know when the deadline was, and 16 percent either had the date wrong, said there was no deadline, said the deadline had passed or refused to answer the question.

Fewer than half of those polled said they had heard or seen any advertising in the past 30 days from an insurance company attempting to sell health insurance. Only 31 percent, said they had heard or seen information about how to get health insurance under the health care law. Most television commercials are for Medicare enrollment, which ends Dec. 7.

Another possible reason for lower sign-ups is that this is the first year people don’t have to pay a penalty for not having health insurance, referred to as the removal of the individual mandate. But the problem with this theory is that most people don’t know the requirement has been repealed. 

According to the poll, 38 percent didn’t know there was no longer a penalty for not having health insurance. An additional 31 percent, were unsure. Only 31 percent knew the law had changed.

The poll also found that about half of those who were uninsured or buy their own coverage said they plan to buy insurance for 2019, despite the elimination of the fine, while 42 percent said they would choose to go without coverage.

The Trump administration has also finalized a rule that allows the sale of short-term health insurance policies — which are generally less expensive than the ACA-compliant plans and offer limited coverage — that could lure some away from buying insurance on the exchange.  

The poll found that 70 percent of those who purchase their own insurance or are uninsured said they would choose to keep the plan they have now and 21 percent of them said they would buy a short-term plan. Click here for a Kaiser Family Foundation fact sheet on short-term plans.

Time’s a-wastin’

The bottom line is that it’s time to sign up for health insurance on Healthcare.gov if you want health insurance next year.

Don’t assume you can’t afford it, because most people in the marketplace qualify for financial help to lower their costs. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services has reported that about 80 percent of Kentuckians enrolled through the federal exchange qualified for tax credits and subsidies that reduced their premiums.

It is also suggested that even if you have a plan on Healthcare.gov, it’s a good idea to look at all of your options each year to make sure you have the plan that best suits your needs.

Where can I find help?  The state-based call center is available at 855-459-6328 to help assist Kentuckians with where to go for coverage, answer questions and pre-screen for eligibility. The Healthcare.gov customer service center (800-318-2596) is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

 Click here to find an application assister or an insurance agent near you. Click here to see a list of outreach events in each county.

Whitney Allen, the coordinator of community development and outreach for the Kentucky Primary Care Association, said this about application assisters: “Assisters are trusted members of the community you live in that are experts in the health insurance enrollment process and offer free, unbiased help. From Medicaid to Marketplace, they are the one-stop-shop to answering your health insurance questions about getting covered, staying covered and how to use your health insurance effectively.”

Healthcare.gov provides a shopping tool to allow you to preview 2019 plans and estimated prices before you log in.

The Kaiser Family Foundation also offers a Health Insurance Marketplace Calculator to provide estimates of health insurance premiums and subsidies for people purchasing insurance on their own on Healthcare.gov. It allows you to enter your income, age and family size to estimate your eligibility for subsidies and how much you should spend on health insurance. It will also allow you to see if you quality for Medicaid.

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