A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Even if automatically re-enrolled, check out your healthcare options; open enrollment ends Dec. 15

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

This is the first year that more than 80,000 Kentuckians with a 2017 health insurance plan on the federal exchange will be automatically re-enrolled in a 2018 marketplace plan. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t check out other options before open enrollment ends Dec. 15.

“People should not automatically assume that they are going to get re-enrolled in something that is going to work for them,” said Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health. “I think it’s important that people still log in, see what their plan options are, make sure that if they have been auto-assigned to a plan that it is going to work for them, and not wait until it is too late.”

So far, 27,979 Kentuckians have actively selected a 2018 health plan on Healthcare.gov during the first month of open enrollment, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

This number includes both new enrollees and returning members who have actively selected a health insurance plan on Healthcare.gov. It does not include those who have been been automatically re-enrolled, nor does it indicate how many re-enrollees have compared plans and decided to stick with their old one.

During the same time frame last year, when there was no automatic enrollment, CMS reported 20,276 Kentuckians had signed up for a 2017 health plan on Healthcare.gov.

The Kaiser Family Foundation also has warned people 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.

Whitney Allen, the outreach and enrollment coordinator for the Kentucky Primary Care Association, encouraged people to make an appointment with their local application assister.

Allen said assisters can help ensure that Kentuckians who have been auto-enrolled have been placed in the best plan for them in 2018, and can help people understand that even though their premiums have gone up, so have the tax credits that help them pay for their health insurance — which she said has caused a lot of “sticker shock” and confusion.

“So a lot of folks are getting plans that are cheaper and with better coverage than their 2017 plan,” she said. “But it’s actually taking those folks to come in and to schedule an appointment to meet with an application assister to understand that.”

Allen added that many people in southeastern Kentucky, where she works, still don’t know it’s time to sign up for their 2018 Obamacare plan or that open enrollment ends much earlier thus year, which she said is largely because of the “drastic” cuts to advertising and marketing budgets this year.

“If folks aren’t reading the notices that they are getting in the mail, then basically they wouldn’t know that it is open enrollment,” Allen said.

The state’s health agency has said it is using direct mail, text messages, phone calls and emails to communicate with current policyholders and potential new enrollees about open enrollment because they no longer get any federal funds for outreach.

Adding to the confusion, some Kentuckians who are enrolled in a plan that will not be available next year will qualify for a special enrollment period that gives them until March 1, 2018 to enroll in a new plan.

John Watkins, the acting executive director of the state’s Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange, said in an e-mail that enrollees who have plans that will not be continued next year should have received notice of this in October, and may have received another notification from Healthcare.gov telling them what plan they were placed in.

In other words, it’s important that you don’t assume that you will qualify for a special enrollment period unless you have been notified by your insurer or Healthcare.gov that your plan will no longer continue or was cancelled.

Beauregard encouraged Kentuckians to err on the side of caution when it comes to this year’s special enrollment period and to go ahead and sign up before Dec. 15 if they can, and to seek the help of an application assister to help with the special enrollment paperwork if they can’t.

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

To find an event in your county or an assister, go to healthbenefitexchange.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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