Shortened Open Enrollment for Health Insurance Begins Nov. 1st

By Lura Jackson

 

Those who are in need of health insurance for the coming year will have half as much time to enroll in coverage through the federal government’s Health Insurance Marketplace than in previous years. Open enrollment this year will begin on November 1st and continue until December 15th. Regardless of what changes are enacted to the Affordable Care Act in 2018, anyone who signs up for health insurance during open enrollment will have coverage all year.

“For the first time, enrollments will be for six weeks compared with three months in previous seasons,” said Deb Shields, certified navigator for the Health Insurance Marketplace. In addition to having less time to enroll, consumers will not be able to enroll online between noon on Saturday and noon on Sunday, which Shields indicates has been a “prime time” for consumers to sign up. 

There will be some changes to the Health Insurance Marketplace in Maine, including what plans are available. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield has dropped out entirely of the Maine marketplace. There is one Anthem plan that consumers can still choose, however, it is “off-market”, meaning that there will be no taxed credit available to lower its cost, Shields explained. “We do not know the cost of this plan, but anticipate it will be expensive.” Pricing information for either Harvard Pilgrim or Community Health Option is not yet available. Community Health Option has added seven HMO plan designs, some of which are on the market (and thus eligible for credits to reduce their cost) and some of which are off-market.

While the current administration is continuing to fund subsidies for lower income Americans through 2017, the executive branch has recently announced that it will not do so for coverage in 2019. The subsidies, which amount to about $7 billion in 2017, offset costs for health insurance for between six and seven million people. In Maine, 87 percent of those who enrolled for coverage this year received subsidies. “Without the action of Congress, I don’t believe that we will have a Marketplace in Maine in 2019,” Shields said. “The insurers are not going to stay in Maine without the government paying the subsidies.”

Despite the aggressive changes to the Health Insurance Market, those who enroll in the upcoming six-week open enrollment period will have coverage and any subsidies they are eligible for through 2018. “If the ACA is repealed it would affect future years and will not affect the 2018 plan year,” added Shields.

Those who are interested in enrolling in health insurance at a potentially subsidized cost (based on income and family size) for 2018 can do so using several methods. For 24-hour access to the Health Insurance Marketplace – outside of the window between noon on Saturday and noon on Sunday, when no access will be available – log in to www.healthcare.gov during the six week enrollment period. To call and speak with a representative to enroll over the phone, call 1-800-318-2596 any time (again, except between noon on Saturday and noon on Sunday).  

To meet with someone in person to sign up for health insurance, contact: Jacinta Altvater, Pleasant Point Health Center, P.O. Box 351, Perry, ME 04667, 853-0644 x 333; Angela Dubey, Healthways/Regional Medical Center at Lubec, 43 South Lubec Road, Lubec, ME 04652, 733-1090 x 2135, adubey@rmcl.org; Victoria Williams, East Grand Health Center, 201 Houlton Road, Danforth, ME 04424, 448-2347, victoria.williams@eastgrand.org; Dee Dee Phelps, St. Croix Regional Family Center, 136 Mill Street, Princeton, ME 04668-3344, 796-5503, dphelps@scrfhc.org; Deb Shields, Eastport Health Care, Inc., 30 Boynton Street, Eastport, ME 04631, 853-0189, dshields@eastporthealth.org; or Josh Stubbs, Harrington Health Center, 50 East Main Street, Harrington, ME 04643, 483-4502 x 247, josh.stubbs@harringtonfamilyhealth.org

Finally, for those who do not qualify for coverage or cannot afford it even with subsidies, there is still assistance available for medical care, Shields explained. Hospitals have the option of allowing consumers to apply for free coverage and many clinics over a sliding scale discount. While this is not health insurance and will not lower the cost of prescriptions, it will provide discounted care for the uninsured in many cases.