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Obamacare's sign-up period starts today.
The 9 million Americans who purchase coverage through the health law's marketplaces have from now until December 15 to pick their 2018 coverage. For those buying coverage — or just interested observers — here are the five things you need to know about this open enrollment period.
1) Open enrollment is short this year — 45 days instead of 90. Over the past few years, the Obamacare open enrollment period typically ran from November 1 through January 31. That gave enrollees about three months to pick a plan. Many would wait up until that late January deadline to sign up. That will not work this year. The enrollment period now ends on December 15, which means that shoppers will have to move quicker to sign up for coverage this time around. One small caveat here: a handful of states are extending their enrollment periods a bit longer — here’s a list of those places.
2) Premiums for some Obamacare plans are spiking by double digits. The cost of mid-level silver plans is rising a lot this year, on average 37 percent, according to Health and Human Services estimates. Most of that rate hike is due to the Trump administration's decision not to pay cost-sharing reduction subsidies. I wrote more about this in yesterday's VoxCare, but essentially insurers jacked up premiums to offset the loss of this other funding source. This means that the sticker price of silver plans often looks a lot higher this year. But...
3) There are some great deals to be had on bronze and gold plans. In many states, health plans made their biggest premium increases in their silver plans. This is important because (again, this builds on yesterday's newsletter) the size of the premium tax credit is tethered to the price of the silver plans. More expensive silver plans mean bigger premium tax credits. And Obamacare enrollees can take those credits to buy a less generous plan (called a bronze plan) for a really cheap price, maybe even free.
Many Maine residents, for example, qualify to buy these bronze plans with a zero-dollar premium, the Portland Press-Herald reports.
Shoppers can also go in the opposite direction: use their new big tax credit to buy a more generous gold plan at a lower out-of-pocket price.
4) It is really, really, really important to shop for coverage this year! The prices for Obamacare insurance this year are, well, just weird. Sometimes plans with low deductibles cost more than plans high deductibles. There are a decent number of free health insurance plans out there for people who receive financial assistance paying their premiums. And there are some really expensive plans out there, too.
All of this makes it so important for Obamacare enrollees to shop for coverage. There are a lot of cases out across the country where enrollees could save hundreds or thousands of dollars by switching health insurance. There is the opportunity, in many cases, for enrollees to get a better plan for a cheaper price. This year more than ever, it is crucial that enrollees compare their options.
If you need a bit of help, the New York Times has put together a great guide to how different Obamacare enrollees in different situations can best shop for coverage. Check it out here.
5) There is enrollment help out there — just less of it. The Trump administration made steep cuts to Obamacare outreach. Funding for in-person assistance fell 72 percent this year, and some groups closed up shop entirely.
Still, there is help out there. Get America Covered offers a tool that lets Obamacare enrollees search by zip code to see the closest Obamacare navigators and even make online appointments.
Those groups are scrambling to provide assistance in this shorter enrollment period, so it's better to get an appointment early rather than wait till the last minute.
Are you an Obamacare enrollee who has questions about this year's sign-up period? Covered Florida will be dropping into our Facebook group to help provide guidance. If you're an Obamacare enrollee, you can join the group here
Health Care Halloween Costume of the Day
Get it? I loved this take on "universal" health care from reader Michael Stone. Thanks for sending it in!
Your daily top health care reads, with research help from Caitlin Davis
News of the day
- “Trump Calls for Using Tax Bill to Repeal Obamacare’s Individual Mandate”: “President Donald Trump called Wednesday for repealing the Obamacare individual mandate in a tax overhaul, a day before House GOP leaders planned to unveil a bill without that provision.” —Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg
- “Obama goes to bat for health law on first day of sign-ups”:“Former President Barack Obama sought to boost his namesake health law on Wednesday by appearing in a video urging people to sign up for coverage on the first day of the 2018 enrollment season.” —Adam Cancryn and Rachana Pradhan, Politico
- “Iowa is changing a core Medicaid requirement”: “The Trump administration has approved a waiver from Iowa, effective Nov. 1, that says the state will not have to provide Medicaid coverage to low-income people for the three months prior to when they applied.” —Bob Herman, Axios
Analysis and longer reads
- “Just Say No to Opioids? Ads Could Actually Make Things Worse”:“In declaring the opioid epidemic a public health emergency last week, President Trump promised that the federal government would start “a massive advertising campaign to get people, especially children, not to want to take drugs in the first place.” But past efforts to prevent substance abuse through advertising have often been ineffective or even harmful.” —Austin Frakt and Keith Humphreys, New York Times
- “Consumer benefit: The secret to getting an Aetna/CVS deal past regulators”: “A merger would put Aetna in a better position to ward off competition from a potential Amazon Pharmacy. Google, Apple and Facebook are some of the other digital giants moving into the healthcare industry.” —Susan Morse, Healthcare Finance
- “Senators Move To Reduce 'Colossal And Completely Preventable Waste' Of Drugs:” “Two U.S. senators introduced legislation Tuesday requiring federal agencies to come up with solutions to the waste caused by oversized eyedrops and single-use drug vials, citing a ProPublica story published last month.” —Marshall Allen, NPR
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