Just 15 days left to sign up for ACA insurance

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There are just 15 days remaining for Americans to sign up for health insurance on the Healthcare Marketplace, www.HealthCare.gov. This year’s enrollment period of Nov. 1-Dec. 15 is drastically shorter compared to previous years—just half as long.

The shorter sign-up follows months of efforts by Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump’s administration to repeal the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as ObamaCare. With those efforts going nowhere, the administration has shortened the sign-up period and drastically cut funding for outreach and advertising. Advertising spending was cut from $100 million to $10 million.

In addition, in late October, Trump announced federal payments that go to insurance companies to help offset the cost of subsidies would be cancelled. The elimination of the cost-sharing reductions to insurance companies have raised premiums by Blue Cross Blue Shield, the only company offering plans in all 100 counties in North Carolina, by an average of 14.1 percent opposed to the “near zero” increase the company said it would have otherwise sought.

However, most people carrying insurance through the marketplace should not be impacted by the rise in premiums. For some, insurance cost may decrease.

“Most North Carolinians won’t be affected by the premium increases, as financial assistance on the Marketplace will increase to keep up with any increases in premiums,” said Brendan Riley, Policy Analyst with the NC Justice Center's Health Advocacy Project. “More than 9 out of 10 people who enrolled in our state last year qualified for lower prices, so every North Carolinian should visit HealthCare.gov to learn about their options before December 15.”

Enrolled Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are eligible to enroll all year, and those who are not eligible for IHS may be eligible to enroll for an affordable ACA plan, said Plummer.

The Affordable Care Act is still in effect, and most adults must have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.

Early sign-ups for health insurance on the marketplace have actually been higher this year than previous years.

More than 250 people signed up in the first week for the seven westernmost counties in North Carolina, according to data compiled by Mountain Projects, a regional nonprofit community action agency based in Waynesville.

According to Mountain Projects, Linda Fitzsimmons, navigator for Swain and Graham counties is busier than she was last year. Her office is located in the First United Methodist Church in Bryson City.

“It’s the best start we’ve ever had, but there are still several weeks to go, so we’ve got to keep building on this momentum,” Jan Plummer, certified marketplace navigator coordinator for Mountain Projects told The Sylva Herald last week.

Across the United States, an 80 percent increase for those newly enrolling was reported during the first 11 days of sign-ups, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Between Nov. 1-Nov. 18, a total of 138,932 people selected plans on HealthCare.gov, which provides for 39 states. This number does not include people who are automatically re-enrolled into a plan. Those individuals simply need to pay their first month’s health plan premium to ensure continued enrollment.

Nationally, during week three of sign-ups, 798,829 selected a plan for a total of 2,277,079 during open enrollment through Nov. 18, according to the weekly enrollment snapshot released by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

While sign-ups have been high during the first few weeks of open enrollment, some still worry about the shortened enrollment period and reduction in advertising spending. Last year, a total of 12.2 million signed up by the end of the enrollment period.

Coverage has been available on the federal marketplace and state-run marketplaces since 2014. Enrollment has continued to grow in North Carolina. In December 2014, there were 277,287 enrolled with 93.6 percent of them receiving some level of financial assistance. In March 2016, there were 545,354 enrolled with 91.8 percent receiving some level of financial assistance.

In the latest efforts to chip away at the ACA, one proposal to the Republican tax bill currently being considered in the Senate would eliminate the individual mandate requirement for healthcare insurance and thus the tax penalties associated with those who lack insurance.

Critics claim the mandate creates incentive for healthy people to be insured, helping balance the overall cost of coverage, and projections are that 13 million people would lose coverage as a result of getting rid of the mandate.

Make an appointment with the local navigator by calling her cell at 828-550-7908.

An enrollment event is planned from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Marianna Black Library in Bryson City on Thursday, Dec. 14.


Quintin Ellison, editor at The Sylva Herald, contributed to this story.

Smoky Mountain Times

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