Health insurance is a bit complicated for millions of families in the US. Different types of networks, a variety of health plans, and income dictates the options available, yet no insurance company created all plans equally. In addition to this, there are variations on costs and coverage depending on location.
The annual open enrollment period offers a chance for applicants and families to make a positive change. This is when they can switch to a better plan or buy a plan for the first time.
The concern this year is that there may not be quite so many plans, and the costs will go up. Some will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome, while others will lose out. It all comes down to the potential changes to the Affordable Care Act, which Congress continues to work on.
The annual open enrollment is here from November 1 until December 15, 2017.
The yearly open enrollment for health insurance coverage is familiar to many Americans. Some people will employ the same strategy each year to find and obtain the ideal plan. Many see this period as a positive time, as it provides opportunities for finding better coverage and costs. Others could do without all the hassle of switching and renewing.
The problem with the 2018 enrollment period is that this is a transitional year. Obamacare may be on the way out, and President Trump has tried to make his first mark on affordable health care in the US. Changes, uncertainties, and new prices mean that all eligible applicants need to invest some time into this process.
2018 Is Not A Year To Wait It Out
The easy approach to the health insurance enrollment period is to ignore it and let everything renew automatically. It is more convenient to stick with the devil you know than try and apply for a better deal. In fact, 2.8 million people did just that in 2017. They saw no need to look for an alternative and enjoyed automatic re-enrollment. This normally works out fine for all those that are happy with their coverage and have no major health conditions.
The issue this year is that this approach may not work.
There are many reasons for this:
the Affordable Care Act has changed
- there is a whole new hierarchy of plans and prices to consider
- many insurers have pulled out of counties over funding issues
- costs could increase significantly for middle-class applicants
Simply put, this means that the current plan may no longer be the best option. It might not even exist as an option. This is why it is important that everyone takes the time to research plans during the new open enrollment period for health insurance in 2018.
The end of Obamacare and President Trump’s approach to the Affordable Care Act.
It isn’t much of an overstatement to say that affordable health care in the US is a bit of a mess. The issue has rebounded between parties and officials as the President tries to get his way of killing Obamacare.
On October 12th he signed an executive order as a means of exerting dominance in the issue. It called on the administration to develop new policies and opportunities for competition and choice. He insisted that this would lower costs for millions. The problem here is that the action appears to have had the opposite effect. The choice is decreasing in some areas, and many will see costs rise.
A new hierarchy of plans
This is where things get a little bit more confusing for those used to their current plan. There are different levels of the insurance plans available under the Affordable Care Act. This should be pretty straightforward and easy to understand.
Logically, a Gold plan would be better than a Silver one, which in turn would offer more than Bronze. At the same time, these Gold plans would be more expensive and the Bronze the most affordable.
Under the current system, the metal levels work like this:
Platinum health plans pay 90% and 10% is paid by the patient
Gold plans covered about 80% of an applicant’s medical expenses
Silver plans covered 70%
Bronze plans covered 60%
The 2018 enrollment period is a little more confusing. There are still Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze plans for applicants to pick from, however, there is no guarantee that the Gold ones are the most expensive. This inconsistency is clear from two separate factors in this health insurance situation.
First of all, there are differences between company price plans where one company’s Gold is cheaper, or equal to another Silver plan. This means that users can enjoy 10% more coverage without paying much more. This could be crucial for those that are struggling to meet costs but have rising medical needs. For example, patients with on-going or worsening conditions could benefit greatly.
The other oddity here is that there are even discrepancies within the plans of the same company. In fact, data shows an insurance provider offering the cheapest Gold plan for less than some Silver plan. This is the case in as many as 16 states. Therefore, some applicants won’t have to go far to find a better deal in their area.
The situation could all settle down again in 2019. By this point, insurers will have a better idea of where they stand. For now, applicants can benefit from the confusion.
This inconsistency and confusion stem from a lack of government funding to providers.
One of the biggest stories with the shake-up in affordable health care is the drop in funding to healthcare providers. Previously, these insurance companies lowered the costs to provide affordable plans.
Under the old system, the government covered the loss via cost-sharing and subsidies. The changes from President Trump’s order mean that these subsidies are under threat. Cost-sharing reductions may not receive a refund. The knee-jerk response here was to raise prices or discontinue serving some areas to cover the losses.
This decision from the Trump administration sent shock-waves through the industry. This forced many companies to reconsider their position. As a result, coverage options have changed across many states.
The biggest concern for average Americans is that many major providers will pull out of their county. This is the only solution for many companies set to lose key funding. Therefore, those that plan to sit back and enjoy automatic re-enrollment may have a shock. It is important to check that a current plan is still an option for 2018. Those in this situation will have to re-apply with somebody else.
For some, this re-application process will be a blessing in disguise. Those issues with the Gold, Silver and Bronze plans mentioned above could help. Those left in need of someone new for health insurance could find a much cheaper option with a competitor. However, there will be others that struggle to find alternatives. Use a local licensed health insurance agent to find your way through the entire process, their services are free and the price of the health plans are the same.
A big issue with this current situation is a mass withdrawal of companies with nobody to take their place. For example, there were 58 counties in Virginia left with no coverage for a period before open enrollment began.
Then there is the issue of higher costs for the middle classes.
The problem with the term affordable health care is that it doesn’t always apply to everyone. Different families will experience different outcomes based on their situation and earnings. The result is a potential blow to the middle class. Those on high earnings and good wages have less to worry about when it comes to affording health insurance.
Premium plans are less of an issue, and there are more choices. Those on the lower end of the scale receive help in the way of subsidies, due to their income and circumstances. This helps them afford fair coverage for their family. Although, there are still differences in the benefits and costs depending on some variables.
The middle-classes meanwhile may find themselves stuck in the middle. They may earn too much for subsidies but not enough for the best options. There are fears that many families will face higher costs within this bracket for 2018 health insurance. This is partly due to a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services. They claim that the most popular Obamacare plans would see a sharp increase in the cost of around 37%.
Will applicants be able to enroll in time?
The additional problem here is that it isn’t just the insurance plans that users have to worry about. Not only do they have to make an important decision with lots of new information, but the time in which to do so has also shrunk.
As mentioned above, there is the tendency to stick with the same old routine. Many looking to renew or switch plans may have a designated date on the calendar. The problem is that this date may not be eligible anymore. The last three years saw long enrollment periods of three months. This took users long into January. The new period is much different.
2018 open enrollment is now shorter
Open enrollment for the 2018 year of health insurance is just six weeks long. Therefore, it only runs from the November 1st to December 15th. Those in charge probably see no problem in this.
Six weeks could be long enough for many people to make the change they need, and everything is set for the next calendar year. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that simple, so call your local agent for help.
Authorities are already aware of potential problems with this shorter enrollment period. This is clear in the extension granted in counties dealing with the recent hurricanes. Here applicants have an additional two weeks to help ease the burden.
The fear here is that many people will fail to apply in time and lose coverage.
Going back to that idea of habit and calendar dates, some people may not be aware of this change. Therefore, they could risk leaving their decision at their usual time and miss out. Data shows that a large majority of users tend to sign up in the last two weeks of the enrollment period. There is the sense that it can wait until nearer the deadline, but not up until the last minute. This is sound advice but will catch people out this year.
All of this leads to concerns over the number of people that will fail to achieve any form of coverage – let alone the plan they want.
There are conflicting ideas and views on this issue.
- the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office forecasts a drop of four million. This is when compared to previous estimates.
- other CBO expects total state enrollment will increase by around 1 million.
The truth is that nobody will know until the open enrollment period ends in December.
This uncertainty strengthens the need for applicants to understand the new implications.
The open enrollment period for health insurance in America has always been an important time of year since Obamacare started. This year there is new significance on the outcomes for families and other citizens. Those that sat back and let their plans renew automatically could regret their decision. This new six week period offers a smaller window for applications. There is still time to research the best options for the year ahead.
This research period is more important than ever with these new changes. Some companies that applicants rely upon may no longer offer suitable coverage. Some may not offer any coverage at all in the county.
The shakeup to Affordable Care Act means a shift in the direction of insurance providers and the costs of their plans. There are some interesting deals to find, especially with those that provide more affordable Gold plans. Applicants can’t know unless they search, and do so in that new time frame.
Take the time to make the right choice for 2018 health insurance
Some people will come off worse as insurers walk away and options become limited or too expensive. Others will benefit from lack of consistency in the hierarchical structure. Either way, working with a local agent, that is familiar with the system and who has completed all the required training, all those individuals and families can get enrolled.
There is uncertainty about ACA and its future, but that should not stop someone from finding a good health insurance plan that fits within their budget.