Affordable Care Act open enrollment begins Wednesday

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Shamane Mills

Wisconsin Public Radio

The signup period for those seeking health coverage on the Affordable Care Act marketplace begins Wednesday. This enrollment period comes in the wake of unsuccessful efforts to repeal the federal health care law.

Health advocates are hoping people will enroll despite changes that make it more difficult. The signup period was cut in half, advertising was slashed and some insurers have bolted from the market. However, there are plans available in every Wisconsin county and most will find the plans affordable, health experts say. 

"Most people who are going to purchase health care insurance through the federal marketplace will qualify for discounts. So when people see those premiums that are listed they should know that they’re not going to have to pay those full premiums," said Donna Friedsam, executive director of the group Covering Wisconsin — the state’s largest federally certified and state-licensed Navigator agency

For 2018, marketplace premiums are going up an average of 36 percent. The majority of consumers will get federal subsidies to help pay for premiums and out-of-pocket costs. But those who aren’t eligible will feel the brunt of rising premiums insurers say are largely due to the Trump administration’s decision to end federal money which lowers consumer costs like deductibles and co-pays.

Wisconsin, like other states, has more people insured than before the ACA. But national health experts say maintaining these gains in coverage could be an uphill battle because changes to the ACA have caused confusion.

"Our tracking poll finds that people don’t know when this coming enrollment (period) starts and ends — even among people who are already enrolled in the marketplace, 60 percent are unaware that open enrollment begins on Nov. 1; and among the uninsured, 85 percent don’t know this opening date," said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation who spoke during a Alliance For Health Policy webinar last week.

Some insurers selling coverage in Wisconsin have left the marketplace, meaning thousands of their customers will have to find new plans or the federal government will do it for them. Wisconsin’s insurance commissioner Ted Nickel said it's important for customers to know all of their options.

"This year more than 75,000 Wisconsinites will lose their current coverage with their insurer," said Nickel. "Nobody wants the federal government to substitute its judgment for the judgment of the consumer. Therefore, we strongly encourage these consumers to shop around and avoid a plan being chosen for them," Nickel said in a statement earlier this month.

President Donald Trump cut the enrollment period by half, and initially there was concern people wouldn’t have time to choose their own replacement heath plan and could be stuck with one the government chose for them.

"In the past, people could see the results of auto-renewal in January and they still had a month to change if they didn’t like that result. This year open enrollment ends just as auto-renewal takes place," said Pollitz.

But changes have been made to ensure people won’t be locked into a plan they don‘t like.

"The good news is if they go in and indicate on Healthcare.gov that they’re current insurance provider is leaving the marketplace, then they will be eligible for an additional 60 days of enrollment," Friedsam said.  

This only applies to consumers whose health plans are no longer offered by insurers who left the marketplace. In Wisconsin that includes Molina, UnitedHealthcare, Anthem and Health Tradition. 

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