Obamacare enrollment period begins now, ends early

Sunday, 05 November 2017, 09:59:10 PM. Insurers have all stated there will be premium increases, but now within a week of implementing them, they say they don't know how much premiums will cost.

Thirty-eight days is all the federal government is allowing this year to enroll or re-enroll in Obamacare.

The name I just used for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act tells you why the time period is shorter this year.  It's just one more way to undermine Obamacare so the president can report the program is tanking.

Late last week the  insurers and feds revealed some - but not all -- their plans.  There was one nasty shock and other information still kept secret.  Although the enrollment period begins Tuesday, Nov. 1.

It ends Friday, Dec. 15.  That's 44 days from now - not counting Sundays.  Because the federal website, which functioned just fine after a rocky beginning, now suddenly needs to shut down for 12 hours every Sunday for "updating."  That means anyone who has leisure time only on Sundays can't use it to research insurance options.

As always, all the FQHC's in the area will have enrollment specialists available at their sites and in some public buildings to help people sign up.  There will be thousands newly eligible, but there also will be tens of thousands who need to re-enroll or be stuck with their current plans no matter how much those plans increase in price or change in ways that will no longer meet their insurance needs.

But that's one of the secrets no one is telling yet.  Insurers have all stated there will be premium increases, but now within a week of implementing them, they say they don't know how much premiums will cost.

Last year North Hudson Community Action Corporation alone helped more than 15 thousand people enroll or obtain Medicaid, so the team is preparing to jump into action again on November first.  But they worry that people won't realize how little time they have.  No one needs to rely on an enrollment specialist to sign up, but most insurers don't have bilingual websites, so those with limited English reading ability will surely benefit from assistance.

People can buy coverage inside or outside the "marketplace."  However, subsidies are available only for plans purchased through the marketplace.  In New Jersey there are four such plans, Amerihealth, Amerihealth HMO, Horizon, and Oscar.  Seven plans are available outside the marketplace, most offering identical benefits as their marketplace counterparts.

Aetna, Cigna, and Oxford Insurance have declined to participate in Obamacare in New Jersey this year, and Amerihealth has withdrawn one of its plans.  People who had insurance under any one of those plans were notified by the companies that they'd have to choose another one.  Insurers will not reveal how many people got those letters.

To be eligible, a person must be a US citizen or lawfully present in this country and have income less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level.  For a single person in our area, that's about $16,000 a year.

There's one bit of good news amid all the gloom here.  The feds have agreed to extend the enrollment period till the end of December for anyone from hurricane-ravaged areas.  That means anyone from Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Texas or Florida coming here to reside with relatives or get a job has an extra two weeks to enroll.

 No one is certain yet whether folks who refuse to get coverage will be fined, but there's no doubt people without insurance face health and financial risks if they become ill or injured.

There's only one bit of advice the enrollment specialists offer to everyone:  Don't wait.  Lines will be long in December and they could be left out.  Act fast.

A former assemblywoman from Jersey City, Joan Quigley is the president and CEO of the North Hudson Community Action Corp.

Submit letters to the editor and guest columns at jjletters@jjournal.com.

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