This year marks the sixth enrollment season for the Affordable Care Act, which set aside a period each year during which people could buy health insurance or change their existing plans. While job-based health plans have their own signup period, everyone else must adhere to the official time frame laid out by the government, whether you buy a plan from a government exchange site or off the exchanges. Enrollment can be a tricky time of year, especially since it falls amid major holidays in the U.S., but it’s important to keep track of big changes so you can prepare. Here are five things to know about open enrollment in 2019.
1 – You’ll Have Six Weeks
In most markets, the 2019 open enrollment period will be last just over six weeks long, which is the same length as last year’s sign up period. This year’s federal open enrollment will begin on November 1 and close on December 15. Any major medical plan bought during this period will go into effect on January 1, 2019.
Some states have different regulations about open enrollment, so residents of those states may have a little more time to sign up. These states host their own Obamacare exchange sites, which gives them more freedom in setting enrollment periods at the end of the year. Last year, some states, like California, allowed people to sign up for health plans all the way through January 31, which was the original deadline at the federal level. State-based exchanges exist in:
- District of Columbia
- New York
- Rhode Island
Not every state with a state-run marketplace offers an extended deadline, so check with your state’s exchange site to make sure you understand the signup timeframe. And while some states have extended deadlines, all open enrollment periods for private, non-job-based coverage start on November 1 nationwide.
2 – Premium Changes Will Depend on Your State
Details on premium costs for health insurance in 2019 haven’t yet been finalized. However, rate information that has been filed so far suggests that prices in some markets may stay fairly similar to their 2018 levels. In other markets, however, consumers could see large jumps in their premiums while others will see nominal increases or even decreases.
In Nebraska, for example, the average proposed rate is up just 2.2 percent from the average rate of a 2018 health insurance plan while Pennsylvania residents might see plans increase 0.7 percent higher than 2018’s average premiums. But in Iowa, Oklahoma and Wyoming, the average proposed rates actually show a decrease compared to this year’s premiums.
On the other end of the spectrum, Missouri, California, Indiana and District of Columbia shoppers may see increases in the double digits. California, for example, is averaging a 17 percent increase in premiums for unsubsidized bronze plans on their exchange for next year.
Washington residents might not experience quite as much sticker shock, but many policyholders will still feel the pinch. Statewide premiums across all metal levels may jump just under 14 percent. The least expensive plan on Washington’s exchange could be 21 percent higher than last year’s cheapest bronze plan. The bottom line here is that you need to shop around in 2019. Take open enrollment as an opportunity to explore your health insurance options on and off the exchange.
3 – You May Have New Options for Insurers
As of July 2018, no insurance companies had announced intentions to stop offering major medical insurance on the Obamacare exchange. This is a noticeable change from the past few years, during which insurer exits were commonplace, and there were fears about whether some counties would end up with no on-exchange plans.
Instead, several insurers are planning to come back to the marketplace in 2019 or are joining the exchange for the first time. This may be because insurers are feeling more confident about participation in the Obamacare system, and those who have been offering healthcare coverage through the marketplace are starting to turn profits from their participation.
After a few years away, Presbyterian is once again going to participate in the New Mexico marketplace in 2019. Some areas of Michigan, Florida and Arizona will now have access to plans from Oscar Health. Wellmark is coming to Iowa, Medica is joining the marketplace in Oklahoma, and Bright will serve customers in Tennessee. These are just a few of the states that will have new options on the ACA marketplace during the upcoming open enrollment period.
4 – You May Have a Hard Time Finding Help
The Affordable Care Act allows organizations to help people sign up for major medical coverage. These people or groups are called navigators. In states that use the federal health insurance exchange, the government provides funding to support navigators.
During the enrollment period for a 2017 health insurance plan, the federal government allotted $62.5 million to the navigator program. For 2018 sign up, the Trump administration reduced this amount to $36 million. Now, for this year’s open enrollment, the maximum amount of funding that the federal government will grant to navigators is $10 million. The $10 million must stretch across all 34 of the states that rely on the federal exchange. A shortage of funds means that there may be significantly fewer unbiased groups and individuals offering help with Obamacare signup this year. Navigators aren’t licensed agents, giving them an edge in that they don’t represent specific insurance companies. Their job is simply to help consumers understand the process of enrollment.
Furthermore, there are new federal regulations regarding navigators. Previously, each state had to have two local entities that acted as navigators, and at least one of them had to be a nonprofit organization. The federal government has changed that rule for 2019. In fact, the new regulations don’t even require a navigator to have a physical presence in the area that it serves. Instead, the navigator can provide help from a distance, such as through an online interface.
Although you can sign up for major medical coverage without relying on a navigator, this assistance often proves invaluable for those who could use an extra hand with filling out applications and evaluating plan options. If you’ve relied on a navigator in the past, you may find that the nonprofit group you’ve used previously is no longer available.
5 – Simple Choice Plans Are No More
Another challenge facing plan selection in 2019 is that most exchanges will no longer highlight Simple Choice plans. In 2017 and 2018, the federal marketplace featured plans with this designation as a way to help simplify the decision-making process for consumers. All Simple Choice plans followed set guidelines for their deductible, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximum levels. In most markets, these plans also provided some services for a copay instead of requiring that they be subject to the deductible.
However, the Trump administration has decided to remove the Simple Choice designation for Obamacare 2019. When shopping the healthcare marketplace, you’ll have to compare each plan to find the one with the best rates and benefits for your needs. You may find that insurers are offering more plans than ever before and that the plans seem to overlap each other in many ways. Sorting through the various options could prove rather challenging.
Some people may notice positive Obamacare changes in the coming enrollment season, such as lower premiums and more insurers in their market. On the other hand, many people will face higher premiums, and some may have a more difficult time with the application process. Positive changes or not, it’s important that you shop for and choose a plan before the end of open enrollment. Your 2019 health coverage depends on it.