Screenshot of Healthcare.gov website
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
With just a few days left to enroll in a health-insurance plan on Healthcare.gov, it’s time to sign up if you want federally subsidized coverage for 2019. Enrollment under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, ends Saturday, Dec. 15.
If you need help with enrolling or simply have questions, there are more than 600 application assisters and more than 2,000 insurance agents available to help — and their services are free, Edith Slone, director of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange, said on a Dec. 3 video posted on the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Facebook page.
And even though you will be automatically re-enrolled in a 2019 marketplace plan if you already have one, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out the other options.
Slone said open enrollment is a good time for an “annual health care checkup” to make sure your coverage suits your needs. Has the number of people in your household has changed? Has your income or medical needs changed? Or are your providers still in your plan network?
And don’t assume you can’t afford coverage.
Slone said 80 percent of Kentuckians who sign up on healthcare.gov will qualify for a tax credit or subsidy to reduce their monthly payments. And while premiums have gone up this year, most enrollees’ cost will be about the same because the credits are calculated to offset premium increases.
Whether Slone’s Facebook message is reaching the Kentuckians who need to hear it is uncertain, especially since five weeks into the six-week enrollment period, 6,142 fewer Kentuckians had enrolled on the federal exchange than at the same time last year.
Kentucky’s enrollment on the federal exchange during November was 30,172, compared to 36,314 who had enrolled by that time last year, according to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. Nationally, 406,277 fewer people had signed up compared to last November. However, these numbers don’t reflect any automatic re-enrollments.
There are many possible reasons for lower enrollment, including the removal of the individual mandate that imposed a penalty for not having health insurance, expansion of availability of “short-term” plans, and huge cuts to many states’ in-person outreach and advertising budgets — though Kentucky still funds its application-assister program.
But the most likely reason is that people don’t know it’s time to sign up, which is a problem because if you miss the deadline — and don’t qualify for a special enrollment period — you won’t get another chance until next year.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken last month, only one in four people who buy their own insurance or who are uninsured knew the correct deadline for open enrollment — Dec. 15.
And fewer than half of those polled said they had heard or seen any advertising in the past 30 days from an insurance company attempting to sell health insurance. Only 31 percent said they had heard or seen information about how to get health insurance under the health-care law.
Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services said in an Oct. 30 news release that it was targeting its outreach efforts through direct mail, text messages, phone calls, e-mail and community outreach events held by local assisters. The cabinet has also posted some outreach messaging on its Facebook and Twitter accounts.
In Arkansas, there seems to be a greater sense of official urgency. The state Health Insurance Marketplace issued a news release on Dec. 3 that emphatically reaches out to its citizens to tell them to “hurry” and sign up for open enrollment because the Dec. 15 deadline is looming.
“Those families and individuals are one catastrophic illness away from potential financial bankruptcy. We insure everything else important in our lives — homes, autos, boats — why not our health?” says the release from Brett Kirkman, chairman of the marketplace board.
Nationally, celebrities such as late-night television talk-show hosts Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel have stepped up their efforts to let people know the deadline is looming.
Kentucky’s cabinet has not issued another news release to encourage sign-ups, and did not respond to a request for comment as to whether it plans to.
Where can I find help?
The state-based call center is available at 855-459-6328 to help assist Kentuckians with where to go for coverage, answer questions and pre-screen for eligibility. The Healthcare.gov customer service center (800-318-2596) is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Healthcare.gov provides a shopping tool to allow you to preview 2019 plans and estimated prices before you log in.
The Kaiser Family Foundation also offers a Health Insurance Marketplace Calculator to provide estimates of health insurance premiums and subsidies for people purchasing insurance on their own on Healthcare.gov. It allows you to enter your income, age and family size to estimate your eligibility for subsidies and how much you should spend on health insurance. It will also allow you to see if you qualify for Medicaid.