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The annual open enrollment for health insurance ends this Saturday, December 15. This year, sign-ups on healthcare.gov are lagging behind normal numbers. Data released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services notes that enrollment numbers are down by 545,929, or 11.7 percent.
Healthcare.gov is the federally-run marketplace that 39 states use for open enrollment. So far, about 4.1 million people have signed up through the federal marketplace, compared with 4.6 million at this point last year. The data doesn’t include the other 11 states who use their own exchanges. Six states also have longer enrollment periods, including California, Colorado, and New York.
The numbers released Wednesday also don’t include subscribers whose plans automatically renew. Those numbers will be tallied after enrollment ends Saturday. There’s also usually a massive surge in the last few days before open enrollment ends. Officials are already seeing an uptick in people using the website or calling in for assistance.
While some of the late enrollments are caused by procrastination, this year’s numbers are also down because some people aren’t aware open enrollment is going on. The Kaiser Family Foundation released a poll in late November showing that 70 percent of people who use the marketplace weren’t aware of enrollment dates.
The misunderstandings about open enrollment dates are likely because the Trump administration slashed this year’s outreach budget by 90 percent. In light of this, former Obama-era officials organized their own outreach campaign. Recently, former President Obama released a video on social media to shed more light on open enrollment. Other grassroots campaigns launched as well.
No jump shots. No ferns. No memes. Not this time. I’m going to give it to you straight: If you need health insurance for 2019, the deadline to get covered is December 15. Go to https://t.co/ob1Ynoesod today and pass this on — you just might save a life. pic.twitter.com/8mHMsXGY0g
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) December 10, 2018
The Sunlight Foundation released an article Wednesday morning showing that the Trump administration altered the look of the Healthcare.gov site after open enrollment started. The article reports that the Trump administration removed information from the homepage about ways to apply (such as by phone or mail). They replaced that information with a link to external enrollment sites. Those sites are owned by a for-profit company called BigWave Systems.
Tweaked https://t.co/0jFRsXgPXO steers people to agents & brokers, private websites — where they sell short-term plans and other non-compliant policies. Probably not coincidental.https://t.co/9SmhoEx8tU
— Jonathan Cohn (@CitizenCohn) December 12, 2018
So, how can you sign up for health insurance through the marketplace before Saturday’s deadline?
Documents You May Need
First off, you’ll find these documents helpful for questions you’ll be asked during enrollment. If you’re renewing coverage, you’ll need to know your estimated income for next year. Here’s some helpful information on how to estimate your income.
Next, you’ll need to know where to go. Healthcare.gov has a popup when you head to the homepage that asks you for your state and email. From there, it will direct you to either the federal marketplace or your state’s own marketplace.
If you need help at any time, head over here to find out who can help you locally. These people typically include either insurance agents or brokers, or they are assisters. Brokers and agents are licensed in their states and tend to be paid on commission by the insurance companies whose plans they sell. Assisters are simply there to help you apply and enroll in a health plan with savings. They can also help you apply for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Assistors are the better option if you’re looking for more impartial information. While brokers are required in many states to act in the customer’s best interest, this doesn’t always happen.
Which Plan To Pick
There are four levels of individual/family health insurance plans in the marketplace. They belong in four categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Bronze offers the highest out-of-pocket expenses for services, while Platinum has the least out-of-pocket cost. Bronze plans also have the highest deductibles, though they cost less per month. In contrast, Platinum plans offer the most protection but cost the most.
No matter which plan you pick, it will offer the 10 essential benefits. Those include emergency care, hospitalization, outpatient care (including chronic disease management), prescription drugs, pregnancy and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse services, lab tests, rehab services and devices, preventative and wellness services, and dental and vision care for children.
While these services are offered, for every plan, the level of coverage may vary. Healthcare.gov offers a good comparison to show you side-by-side what your plan options are.
Remember, even if you already have a plan, it’s a good idea to check out your options for next year. Plans and prices can change every year. Some insurance companies may either pull out of a market or chose to offer plans in a new area.
Most people qualify for financial assistance to help them afford plans. It’s also worth noting that many premiums are lower for the 2019 coverage period than for this year. While not all of them will be lower, Insure notes that many costs have gone down after two years of upheaval and uncertainty.
If you have any questions, you can also call the Healthcare exchange directly at 1-800-318-2596. They may ask for your information and then call you back after enrollment ends to complete your application. Your plan will still kick in on January 1.
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Melissa covers breaking political news for Hill Reporter. Melissa specializes in stories about general politics, social issues, economics, and other issues of national interest. She can be reached at Melissa@HillReporter.com