This fall, the annual enrollment period to sign up for health insurance is shorter. In many states, it lasts only six weeks, from November 1 to December 15, and the federal government website link to health coverage, healthcare.gov, will be down for maintenance on many Sundays within that window of time.
Eight states are extending the enrollment deadline at their health care exchanges: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington. The same goes for the District of Columbia. Take note of all this if you are shopping for health insurance.
Be sure to compare plans. Plans do change from year to year, sometimes significantly. In 2018, your current plan might revise its terms of prescription drug coverage or its roster of physicians. That could affect you. Shop around to see which plans include your preferred hospitals, doctors, and dentists.
Many consumers just settle for being auto-enrolled in their plans for another year – or if their current plan will be phased out, in what their state health care exchange deems a comparable plan. This auto-enrollment is convenient, but the results might disappoint you.
Tax credits are still around, and Silver plans are still providing cost-sharing reductions. A family of four can earn up to $98,400 in 2017 and still receive federal credits to counterbalance health insurance expenses. The threshold is $48,240 for an individual. By law, all Silver-level plans must offer reduced coinsurance, copayments, and deductibles.
Silver plan tax credits will rise proportionally with premiums. Everyone knows monthly health insurance payments are rising for 2018. The Congressional Budget Office forecasts that premiums for the popular Silver plans will increase 15-20%. Even so, many Silver plan participants may not feel the pain, because the size of their tax credits will grow. As an example, the Kaiser Family Foundation says that an individual with a $30,000 income enrolled in the second-cheapest Silver plan will pay 2.9% less for coverage in 2018 than in 2017 when credits are applied.
True, some major insurance carriers are leaving Affordable Care Act exchanges next year; others are discontinuing their Platinum and Bronze plans, which the ACA does not require them to offer. Offsetting that bad news, it may actually be a better value to buy a Gold or Platinum plan than a Silver plan if your income allows you to qualify for a health care subsidy (the threshold is $30,150 for an individual and $61,500 for a family of four). If your income is low enough to make you eligible for a subsidy, you may also be able to buy a high-deductible Bronze plan for a very inexpensive premium or even get Bronze coverage for free.
If you are a high earner, you may want to look for coverage elsewhere. You may visit your state exchange or healthcare.gov and learn that you are ineligible for tax credits to offset the costs of health insurance premiums. If so, purchasing coverage in an off-exchange plan through an insurance company or insurance agent might be a good option.
According to federal law, off-exchange plans must meet the basic standards for health coverage set forth in the Affordable Care Act and offer all the consumer protections of plans sold through the health insurance exchanges. Your health status cannot disqualify you from enrolling in an off-exchange plan.
This is the time to take a good look at your health insurance coverage. Rather than simply accept auto-enrollment for 2018, use the 6-week window to evaluate other plans. Shop smartly, for your health coverage matters.