Why Buying Health Insurance During Open Enrollment is Important
You may have heard of the term Open Enrollment Period or OEP, but, like many people, you may not know what it means or why it is important. Basically, the Open Enrollment Period is a period of time each year when any American that meets certain eligibility criteria may sign up for a health plan found on one of the health insurance marketplaces sponsored by the Affordable Care Act. This annual enrollment period offers American families the opportunity to obtain health coverage with a wide variety of benefits and, if they qualify, use thousands of dollars in tax credits to minimize monthly premiums.
It is extremely important that you and your family have at least a minimum of health coverage, whether it is through the Obamacare health insurance exchanges, private insurers or a government insurance program. Health insurance pays a portion of your medical expenses including office visits, prescription medications and hospital stays. By obtaining a health insurance policy, you are protecting yourself from the financial risks of a medical emergency.
Open Enrollment Period for 2018
If you wish to enroll in a health insurance policy sponsored by the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, for 2018, you must do so during the Open Enrollment Period. The OEP for 2018 is from November 1 through December 15 of 2017. This is a shorter OEP than in past years, and you should be aware of some other changes that the Trump administration is instituting.
Not only is the Open Enrollment Period shorter than in many other years, but the website that millions of Americans use to shop and enroll in an Obamacare health plan may not be available on all of the days during the OEP. The web portal Healthcare.gov will be down for maintenance every Sunday from midnight to noon, except December 10.
If you find yourself unable to connect to Healthcare.gov, you may be able to use a third party like an insurance agent or broker to enroll. Reputable insurance brokers like Boost Health Insurance will be able to enroll you directly in an Obamacare health plan through their own websites. You can also chat with insurance brokers to learn more about available health plans by using the “Help on Demand” service found on Healthcare.gov.
Changes to 2018 Obamacare Plans
Before you go online looking for a new health insurance policy, there are some things you should know. First of all, you may have read in the news that President Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress have been trying to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. There were several attempts in 2017 to abolish the law, but all of them failed at one stage or another.
While they didn’t repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration is taking action to limit its effectiveness. One of the ways it is doing that is by eliminating important cost-sharing subsidies. In 2017, the federal government paid almost $7 billion in cost-sharing subsidies that help keep deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses low on certain lower tier health plans.
By halting these subsidies, the government is forcing insurers to raise premiums on Obamacare health insurance policies. In many states, this will lead to premium increases on plans in Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum tier health plans, but in some states where state insurance boards are limiting premium hikes, only Silver tier plans will experience a jump in premiums. So, when you are shopping for a plan, compare plans carefully because in some states, Gold plans may actually be cheaper than Silver plans.
However, many plans may actually be cheaper for you in 2018 than in other years. This is because of how the Affordable Care Act operates. Since the government stopped making subsidy payments and insurers are raising premiums, the government must compensate for the price increases by raising the amount of tax credits consumers receive. This means that for some lower tier plans, enrollees may only pay a few dollars a month, or even nothing at all. You should keep in mind however, that lower tier plans often require higher deductibles and out-of-pocket payments like co-payments and co-insurance.
What Happens If You Miss Open Enrollment
Open Enrollment Period only comes around once a year, and it is extremely important that you take advantage of this six-week period to enroll in an Obamacare health plan. If you miss the OEP in 2017, you may not be able to enroll in a health plan from one of health insurance exchanges until the next OEP late in 2018. That means you may not have health coverage for an entire year; if you encounter any health issues, you will be entirely responsible for any charges you incur.
You may be able to sign up for insurance outside of the exchanges which will offer similar financial protection, but you will have to pay full price for these policies. The health plans on the Obamacare marketplaces are eligible for tax credits—up to hundreds of dollars in discounts off of your monthly premium. To qualify for these tax credits, you must have an income between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level and file your income taxes for any year you want to use the tax credits.
If you fail to enroll in an Obamacare health plan or one from another insurer, you may be fined. The Affordable Care Act mandates that all Americans with sufficient income must have health insurance. In 2017, that penalty is up to $695 per adult or $347.50 per child, with a possible maximum fine of $2,085.
If you do miss the Open Enrollment Period, you may not be completely out of luck. If you are already enrolled in an Obamacare plan, your plan will be automatically renewed on Dec. 16, 2017. However, because this is after the OEP, you will have to remain on that plan for all of 2018.
To learn more about available health plans in your area, please visit Boost Health Insurance.
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