Open Enrollment for Affordable Care Act begins nationwide

By Michael Campbell – News Editor

Virginians and Americans seeking health coverage can now begin shopping the Health Insurance Marketplaces as open enrollment began last week.

Those individuals seeking healthcare can enroll between now and Jan. 31, 2017 and, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “most Marketplace consumers will again have plan options for less than $75 per month, thanks to financial assistance.”

“This Open Enrollment, we’re encouraging every American who might need coverage to visit, where they’ll find options for affordable health insurance. This year, the vast majority of consumers will qualify for tax credits that help keep coverage affordable, and it’s easier than ever to shop around and compare options,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “As we sound today’s opening bell, let’s also take stock of the historic gains in coverage we’ve made as a country, and work together to continue that progress.”

Here in the Commonwealth, a total of ten carriers will offer plans in the Marketplace for Virginia consumers: Aetna, CareFirst Blue Choice, Cigna, Group Hospitalization and Medical Services, Health Keepers, Innovation Health Insurance Company, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic, Optima Health Plan, Piedmont Community Healthcare (and Piedmont HMO) and UnitedHealthCare of the Mid-Atlantic.

According to HHS, since the Marketplace opened for business, “they have helped drive the national uninsured rate down to historic low after historic low: it reached 8.6 percent in the first quarter of 2016, down from 16.3 percent in 2010.”

The HHS reports “20 million more Americans have coverage today,” noting Medicaid expansion in 31 states and the District of Columbia and “the ability for young adults to stay on their parents’ plans up to age 26” have contributed to those gains.

Specifically in Virginia, data from the HHS shows over 420,000 people enrolled in private plans through the Virginia exchange during the 2016 open enrollment period.

That represents an increase of nearly 10 percent over the 385,000 people who enrolled the previous year.

In addition, 37 percent of Virginia exchange enrollees were new to the exchanges while the rest already had coverage from the previous year.

One of the primary concerns of Marketplace shoppers is cost, as each year of the exchange openings has been followed with price increases from providers.

In the commonwealth, data from the Bureau of Insurance shows the average increase for individual market plans ranges from 10 percent to nearly 30 percent for some plans.

In a statement, HHS suggests consumers shop around to find the best deals.

“If every returning consumer nationwide selected the lowest-cost plan within the same metal level, average premiums paid would fall by $28 per month – 20 percent – compared to 2016, after factoring in financial assistance,” officials stated.

“We want to make sure everyone knows it’s easier than ever to visit the Marketplace, compare your options, see if you qualify for lower costs, and sign up for the plan that best meets your needs and budget,” said CEO Kevin Counihan. “That’s why we’re going all-out for Open Enrollment this year, with a top-tier public education campaign and on-the-ground partnerships to reach people where they are and spread the word about the opportunity to enroll in affordable coverage.”

According to HHS, “85 percent of current Marketplace consumers receive tax credits that bring down the cost of coverage, and, nationwide, about the same percentage of Marketplace-eligible uninsured Americans also have incomes that could qualify them for tax credits.”

Officials add, “an estimated 2.5 million people currently paying full price for health insurance in the off-Marketplace individual market could be eligible for tax credits if they purchase 2017 coverage through the Marketplace.”

If you don’t have health insurance by the end of the year, you could be in for large penalties as the charge as increased when compared to 2014 and 2015.

According to officials, the penalty for being uninsured in 2016, which would be assessed when tax returns are filed in early 2017, is $695 per uninsured adult or 2.5 percent of the household income, whichever is higher.

Copyright 2016 by Womack Publications

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