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Tuesday
Nov012016

Open Enrollment 4 starts today, with new challenges

Today is the start of the fourth open enrollment period since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance marketplaces first opened in the fall of 2013. To date, we’ve seen a great deal of success, with approximately 12.7 million people enrolling in private ACA marketplace plans and more than 14 million qualifying for expanded Medicaid and CHIP coverage.
 
Despite the historic reduction in the number of uninsured people in our country, there are an estimated 11.7 million people who are eligible for coverage, but currently uninsured. Many of these uninsured people are the women, LGBTQ people and families for whom Raising Women’s Voices advocates. We and our regional coordinators around the country will be working hard to reach and enroll these still-uninsured people during Open Enrollment Period 4.
 
What are the challenges we face this year? News coverage of premium rate increases is certainly one of them. Insurers offering health plans in the ACA marketplaces have received approval for significant rate hikes in a number of states. Also troubling have been reports that some insurance companies have dropped out of the ACA marketplaces. This kind of news could discourage some still-uninsured people from applying for coverage.
 
In fact, most people applying for coverage will still qualify for premium subsidies, which will go up to offset the increased premiums. So, the overall cost to most enrollees will not be substantially higher. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that 85 percent of current Marketplace health enrollees receive premium subsidies, in the form of tax credits, to reduce the cost of their health care coverage. The percentage of new applicants who would qualify for the premium subsidies is expected to be about the same.
 
To counter some of the recent negative news, HHS has predicted that 72 percent of people applying for coverage using the HealthCare.gov federally-run insurance marketplace will be able to find a plan for $75 or less in premiums per month, and that enrollees will be able choose, on average, among 30 plans.
 
What advice can we offer still-uninsured people worried about premium rates? Consumer health advocates recommend comparing prices, just as you would with any other big purchase. “’Go shopping,” said  Elisabeth Benjamin, Vice President for Health Initiatives with the Community Service Society in New York. “You may be eligible for more financial help than you think.”
 
What can we tell current enrollees trying to decide if they can afford to renew their coverage for 2017? HHS suggests that switching plans can provide enrollees with significant savings on their premiums. “If all consumers switched from their current plan to the lowest premium plan in the same metal level, the average 2017 Marketplace premium, after tax credits, would be $28 per month less than the average 2016 Marketplace premium after tax credits – a 20 percent reduction,” HHS reports. Enrollees should also be sure to check their eligibility for Medicaid and, in New York, for the new low-cost Essential Plan, which has premiums of no more than $20 a month, and no deductible.
 
Open Enrollment Period 4 will run through January 31, 2017. You must enroll in a plan by December 15 in order to qualify for coverage that goes into effect January 1, 2017. While there are a number of ways to sign up for coverage, including online and over the phone, the easiest way for many people may be meeting with a trained “navigator” who can help you weigh your options and enroll in a plan that is right for you.
 
RWV regional coordinators will be doing their part. For example, the Lesbian Health Initiative in Houston, TX, is offering free in-person enrollment help during its fall health fair this coming Saturday morning, Nov. 5. Enroll Michigan has several enrollment events taking place around the state today and tomorrow. To locate a navigator in your area, you can enter your zip code into HealthCare.gov, where you can also browse through 2017 plans and prices.
 
Raising Women’s Voices at APHA Conference
 

Raising Women’s Voices Co-founders Byllye Avery, Cindy Pearson and Lois Uttley have been busy at the American Public Health Association conference underway this week in Denver, Colorado. The three have been staffing a booth in the giant Exhibit Hall being visited by more than 12,000 conference attendees. In photo above, Avery (second from left) and Pearson (second from right) talk to visitors at the exhibit booth.
 
RWV health insurance literacy materials have been a big hit at the APHA conference! For this Open Enrollment Period, RWV is offering copies of two one-page fact sheets – 5 Steps to Getting Started Using Your Health Insurance, and 4 Costs You May Have to Pay – which are available in both English and Spanish. These fact sheets are designed for newly-insured people who may not be familiar with how to use health insurance effectively and may not understand about premiums, deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance. We also have available copies of our popular Personal Health Journal. Check out these materials on our website, www.MyHealthMyVoice.com.
 
On Monday, the three RWV co-founders were joined by RWV Colorado Regional Coordinator Cynthia Negron of COLOR, a Denver-based organization of Latinas advocating for reproductive justice. She is at far left in the photo, next to Cindy Pearson, Byllye Avery and Lois Uttley, as they prepared to give a panel presentation on what is ahead for the ACA in 2017. They described the need to build on ACA accomplishments for women’s health and LGBTQ health in the years ahead, while working to improve affordability, continue to expand Medicaid in new states and extend coverage to those immigrants currently ineligible for ACA coverage.

 

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