Open enrollment season has begun in earnest as the insurance marketplace of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) opened Wednesday for millions of people. If you plan to get insurance through your employer, open enrollment is either already underway or will typically begin sometime in November.
With nearly 30 million people still uninsured, it’s clear that many Americans are still having a difficult time finding affordable coverage. To help with that, we’ve outined four changes affecting ACA for the new year.
Open enrollment: Here are a few very important changes for Obamacare in 2018
Money expert Clark Howard says he has some radical ideas about how he would want to provide health care but right now, we will focus on what’s changed for 2018.
The main thing is you’ll want to do your due diligence and shop around before enrolling in a plan. If you opt to use the Internet to aid you in your search, know that Healthcare.gov will be subject to 12 hours of downtime every Sunday. That means you’ll mostly be limited to browsing during the work week or on Saturdays.
1. There will be a shorter enrollment period — act accordingly
One of the main changes for this year’s open enrollment is that Americans will have a shorter signup period —45 days — in contrast to years past. A number of states that offer their own insurance marketplaces may have different enrollment periods, so you’ll want to check your state’s Department of Health website for specifics.
Employers may have shorter or longer enrollment periods as well, but if you’re looking to enroll in Obamacare, it will run from November 1 to December 15, 2017. Some people may get an extension if they qualify for special enrollment (hurricane victims, or those who experience a life event like a new baby or change of job.)
Also, unlike in years past, you won’t see many reminders, advertising or promotions about open enrollment. The budget for the popular “Navigator” program, a key assistance platform to help Medicaid enrollees, has been slashed in many states by the federal government.
You’ll also want to be cautious about automatically re-enrolling in last year’s plan. Many insurers have adjusted their offerings to reflect new realities of higher coverage costs.
2. Many enrollees will qualify for new premium tax credits
A number of Americans will qualify for “premium tax credits,” which are credits that go toward your monthly premium. When you choose your plan, you’ll see what your available credit is. You’ll then have the option to apply all of the tax credit, some, or noneeach month. This is a primary way your monthly insurance costs could go down.
The amount of your tax credit is based on the following factors, according to the Healthcare.gov website:
- The number of people in your household. Your household includes the person who files the household’s tax return, their spouse, and any dependents claimed on the tax return.
- Your household income for the year you want coverage. Households with income above 400% of the federal poverty level don’t qualify.
- The cost of the second-lowest cost Silver Marketplace health plan in your area. This is the “benchmark” plan cost.
For more information, see how to quality for tax credits.
3. Silver plans have skyrocketed — here’s why
The four “metal” tiers of health plans under Obamacare are Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze (plus basic catastrophic coverage, for those who qualify). Citing federal data, CNNMoney says Silver premiums will rise as much as 37%.
Saying that they cost the government billions, President Donald Trump has vowed to end cost-sharing subsidies, which are only available in the Silver plan. Cost-sharing subsidies don’t go toward your premium, but instead are applied toward your out-of-pocket medical expenses like co-payments and coinsurance.
Anticipating the demise of the subsidies, insurers — the ones who haven’t decided to leave the marketplace altogether — have raised a number of their premiums.
4. New for 2018: Expanded Bronze plans
Bronze plans have been expanded for 2018 after the Trump Administration approved a plan for insurers to cover less. That move means that enrollees will have lower monthly premiums, but higher costs at the hospital. The ACA website says this about Bronze plans: “They can be a good choice if you usually use few medical services and mostly want protection from very high costs if you get seriously sick or injured.”
In short, the cost of federal health plans this year will rise for some, but many others may find their costs to be lower, even for Gold plans.
A joint report released Monday from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Department of Health and Human Services found that 80% of plans are $75 or less, a 9% increase from the previous year.
Obamacare coverage begins on January 1, 2018.